Committee of 100 Panel Debates VA Standards of Learning Verses Common Core

| November 15, 2013 | 1 Comment | News

L-R moderator Sam Hill, Gil Trenum, Lillie Jessie, Meg Gruber and Kim Simons.

At the Prince William Committee of 100 Meeting at the Manassas La Quinta Hotel panelists presented their opinions on whether Virginia should keep its own Standards of Learning [SOL] for K-12 public education or switch to the Common Core State Standards [CCSS] or national standards, for math and English.

While the discussion focused on standards and not testing, per se, the commonly held opinion among panelists was that testing of school children in this country has been too extensive. Unfortunately, panelists also agreed that adopting the Common Core would do little to reverse this trend.

The Committee of 100 chose panelists that each represented a distinct view on the issue and also came prepared with ample information on the topic.

Brentsville District School Board member Gil Trenum generally argued that Standards of Learning is superior to Common Core, because it provides greater citizen control. School Board member Lillie Jessie, of the Occoquan District, argued that the Common Core would allow better alignment across the country, which would better serve Virginia’s transient population due to military service.

Meg Gruber, President of the Virginia Education Association, and teacher high school teacher for 32 years, argued that the Common Core is not as educator-centric as she would like, but it is preferable to the SOLs. Parent advocate and editor of the local education blog, Prince William Education Reform, Kim Simons, said both have their advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately she prefer Virginia recreate its own standards.

To date, 45 states, the District of Columbia and four territories have switched to the Common Core. Many of those state received incentivized subsidizes via President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative that gave federal money for schools that met certain criteria.

Virginia opted out of that initiative and now would receive no additional federal dollars to fund the adoption of the program outside of some funds for training and possible reduction in the cost of standardized tests. However, that does not mean adopting the CCSS would not have its advantages. Being more compatible with most of the country would be a big one,, also funds are available for teacher training.

Gil Trenum

Trenum, who was the first speaker, thought the SOLs were superior since they have been created with more local input. He explained that when he has a concern about the way education is being handled, he need only to reach out to the state level.

Gil Trenum says Virginia SOLs give the people more control than nation standards.

“We have personal relationships with our representatives in Richmond,” he said.

However, to make a change on the federal level, Virginians would have to “fight bureaucracy.”

He also said that while other states may be lagging behind the country, Virginia does not have that problem.

He said adopting Common Core might lead to other federal regulations over schools, such as adopting common textbooks. As the standards and SOL testing drive much school planning, he questions what else would need to change, and if a costly “ripple effect” would be created. He also worries that, at this point, the Common Core is too untested and would have a slew of problems for that reason alone.

Further he questioned the role of vendors like Pearson, a leading creator of standardized tests and education materials, in pushing these federal initiatives.

Trenum said Pearson is involved in too much of the standardization of education, already including SOL tests and the teacher’s online grade book program, which crashed right before grades were due last week.

However, he does not think that Virginia should completely ignore the Common Core standards. Rather he suggested that Virginia benchmark our standards against them.

Lillie Jessie

Jessie said she is not as interested in choosing one system over another as doing what is best for the students. Still she offered a compelling argument for the Common Core.

She said with people moving in and out of Virginia and the world being smaller than ever, having a Common Core would make for an “easier transition for the students,” as well as teachers, when they receive an out of state transfer student.

Lillie Jessie outlines some of the advantages of the Common Core.

She also thinks the Common Core standards are superior to the SOLs because there are fewer of them. Jessie said Virginia has too many standards. As such it emphasizes a “broad” rather than “deep” approach to knowledge, and encourages teachers to spend more time on facts rather than critical thinking.

She believes the ten “anchor standards” or “power standards” prioritize what is most important, and can help Virginia move from a knowledge-based model to a more critical-thinking based model.

She said that with the Common Core, Virginia can still keep its own curriculum, but that curriculum would be more focused.

“I’m not here to say that I am for the Common Core and not for the SOLs,” said Jessie, but “eventually, we have to compete with the nation.”

Meg Gruber

Gruber called for more teacher input in legislation and a move away from the politics of education. She did not seem to think either system was ideal, but choose the Common Core as the lesser of two evils.

“Whether you look SOLs, Common Core, Joe’s Standards, they’re just standards, minimum things we think our children should know and be able to do,” Gruber said.

Meg Gruber, President of the VEA, formerly taught at Forest Park High School.

However, she did move towards the Common Core camp, pointing out, like Jessie, that the SOLs are more broad than deep.

Gruber said, after meeting with Virginia Commonwealth University students, she found that they felt unprepared for their college course work and attributed that to the fact that their elementary and high schools had focused so much on “fill in the bubble” testing.

“Whether we go to the Common Core or not I don’t care, but one thing the Common Core does better is with thinking or analysis.”

She also said that teachers do not decide on the standards, materials or pacing but are the ones who are blamed when the system fails.

Kim Simons

Simons said everyone should look at the need for new standards. While Virginia schools are not failing, there is a gap between the socially advantaged and disadvantaged students that widens into the high-school years.

While Simons believes this merits cause to review the current system, Simons said she would rather start from scratch creating a new system than adopt the Common Core, which has its own issues.

Kim Simons, parent advocate

Simons also wanted to clarify, lest the audience over interpret what standards mean.

“They are not instructional materials or practices,” she said.

Nor do they call for more critical thinking, or advocate for the teacher acting as a facilitator in the classroom.

In her own research, Simons has found that the Common Core system is preferable for elementary students, because it provides clearer standards, compatible with traditional math, rather than the new process of math investigations. However, she finds it limiting for science and mathematics driven high school students, since the SOL standards are more challenging.

For the English Common Core, Simons was astonished by how they were designed.

“Zero – not a single high school English teacher or college professor was on the panel,” Simons said.

While starting completely over and having Virginia, or at least Prince William County, develop an entirely new system sounds like a Herculean task, Simons said, because she is a parent, she believes it can be done.

“Common Core in its standard form won’t fix anything, in my opinion,” she said.

Follow-Up Questions

During a question and answer session with the audience, Simons and Jessie clashed on some of their ideas about how to improve the education process. While Simons suggested that specialist teachers in elementary schools better prepare students for high school, Jessie said the research does not support that.

However, Simons responded that nations whose students scored high in math do hire mathematicians, even to teach their primary school students.

Committee of 100 audience included members, educators and parents.

Simons and some audience members advocated for parents and teachers to take a larger role in education. Jessie explained that teachers do have input through Professional Learning Communities and meetings with administrators, but she also explained that it is a profession in which experts create guidelines based on research.

Everyone on the panel and those in the audience agreed something still needs to be done to reduce testing. One woman said her daughter, who is still in elementary school, feels pressured by the frequent testing environment of the SOLs.

Jessie said it would be more ideal if “testing” became a range of assessments and projects that tested high-level thinking skills like creation, synthesis and evaluation.

Unfortunately, the Common Core is not the answer to reducing testing. Testing was mandated by No Child Left Behind, and even with a waiver, states need to demonstrate certain standards via testing.





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  1. CreationNation says:

    By coincidence I saw this today out of TN:

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