Backlash over Common Core extends to US Catholic schools

7 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Backlash over Common Core extends to US Catholic schools.

The backlash against standardized testing is rippling through some Roman Catholic schools as they balance the college-driven Common Core learning standards with spiritual goals. Has anyone noticed that all the negative talk about Common Core focuses principally on where the standards came from, who supports them, who’s funding the initiative and why we should protect our children from it? The Diocese of Albany announced recently that it will reduce the frequency of the Common Core-aligned tests while sticking with the standards, which spell out skills students should master at each grade level from kindergarten through high school. “Although the standards of the Common Core itself are good, the collateral pieces have caused great strife for families and teachers,” Superintendent Michael Pizzingrillo said. When the general public had its chance this summer to react to the standards themselves, more than 4,100 citizens took time to record more than 250,000 mostly positive responses in less than two months.

The number of dioceses that have opted out of using either the standards, tests or both hasn’t been officially tracked while states have phased them in over the past five years. These standards encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to obtain deeper levels of understanding rather than rote memorization. The question asked the student to find the result of 5 multiplied by 3, using the “repeated addition strategy.” The student wrote “5+5+5” and correctly found the answer to be 15. The focus, he said, has to remain on the development of students’ “mind, body and spirit.” About 1.9 million students around the U.S. are enrolled in 6,568 Catholic schools, most of them elementary schools, according to the National Catholic Education Association. Apparently, this strategy didn’t fit with the Common Core-established method for teaching multiplication, so the teacher punished the student for getting the right answer in a way not prescribed.

While she said she’s been able to help most of her children with their homework, she’s started to have trouble with the one in the sixth grade. “[We get] some handouts that said that their teaching style would have to change,” Poole said. “It kind of briefly goes over it, but nothing really detailed. “It’s a lot more challenging. They see the political charge,” said Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director for education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “What this situation has done is created an opportunity for Catholic schools to review our mission: What is our mission and how does the curriculum support that mission?” The conference urges education leaders to review the standards but notes that rejecting them could put students at a disadvantage later in high school. Now, your child is going to struggle if you don’t send them to preschool before they start school.” Some work has been done, both at the state level and locally, to address some of the issues that arose from the transition. It appears that what we might have here is education that truly is student-centered, learning that reflects skill development aimed at creativity, innovation, adaptation and flexibility toward new, unexpected challenges and opportunities.

This is learning that is developmental in scope, life-long in duration, in sync finally with that elusive formula that does what we’ve been unable to do for so long — prepare individuals for careers and learning opportunities that as yet don’t even exist. Sydney Holbert with Mississippi College was part of a committee with the Mississippi Department of Education that made changes to Common Core to form what is now called the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standard, which debuted this year. “There was an open forum,” Holbert said. “Parents and teachers and anybody could go on and make suggestions. By measuring the year-to-year development of these skills on tests of reading comprehension, writing, and math applications, educators can track the academic growth and progress of every student to determine how well they understand what they are learning, anticipate problems for particular students before they actually do emerge, and plan early intervention strategies accordingly.

It’s important to know that one of the states that bought into the program early on was Kentucky, West Virginia’s coal-producing, cross-border neighbor. While that state’s first-year scores declined some, recent outcomes reveal that the percentage of high school graduates in Kentucky ready for college and careers increased from 38 percent to 62 percent in just four years. It’s not fancy or anything, but I will video the teacher. [Parents] can go on there, and they can look and see her trying to teach exponents and things like that. Using resources from John Stossel, students write persuasive essays on current controversial topics involving national security, government regulations, and global warming. That has been something we’ve put in place here, because [it’s] been a common thread for a lot parents, especially for math.” Foster said the idea came from the concept of the “flipped classroom,” a method of teaching where video lectures were assigned at home and teachers focused on discussion and practice in the classroom.

This talking point also defies logic because, as this math problem shows, many Common Core teachers want only one method to be taught for calculating the correct answer, regardless of the critical thinking utilized by the student. Pizzingrillo said it’s hoped the Albany diocese’s move away from state tests in its 23 schools will help parents distinguish between the standards, whose focus on critical thinking is seen as useful, and the tests, which are at the center of so much turmoil.

They know, and in this they are on target, that this particular reform program promises a degree of change in how we view education, fund our schools, and train our teachers that will end forever business-as-usual in K-12 education. Khan Academy is a website that set out to “provide a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere.” Khan Academy provides video lectures and exercises for math from kindergarten to differential calculus.

Instead of testing all students in grades three through eight, Albany Catholic schools will, beginning this year, test only those in grades three, five and seven and use a different test to measure student achievement. Despite the advantages of being able annually to measure the progress of our kids against national benchmarks and children in neighboring states, many worry about this kind of data in the “wrong” hands.

Along with the new math and reading standards, schools have also been implementing the third-grade gate, a reading assessment that third-graders are required to pass before moving on to fourth grade. “The kids that did not pass it, [teachers] were really working hard with them,” Foster said. “I think it’s a really good thing. A fifth-grade English lesson on the Civil War, for example, incorporates the idea of righteousness, while a fourth-grade geometry lesson uses crosses to demonstrate parallel, perpendicular and intersecting lines. English teacher Meghan Bornhorst said the standards will continue to guide her lessons, even though not all of her students will be directly tested on them. These are the first NAEP scores released since Common Core was fully implemented, and it will be two more years before the next set of NAEP scores are released and potential correlations examined.

In 1816, recently-retired President Thomas Jefferson led national opposition to a Senate-sponsored tax on foreign books, intended primarily to protect the nation’s young by keeping dangerous, un-American ideas out of the hands of the young. Despite efforts by today’s Common Core opponents to do like-wise, ostensibly for the same reasons, some very disturbing international data suggest motives much more insidious. The math techniques now associated with Common Core-aligned math are solidly entrenched in many public education systems across the nation, even though in 2006 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics called for an end to these techniques and a return to teaching the basics, i.e. direct instruction and memorization of basic facts. Data released by the United Nations reveals an inverse relationship between national policy decisions to invest in citizen development and access to wealth in natural resources. Problem-solving strategies include: changing your point of view, making an organized list, looking for a pattern, solving a simper problem, drawing a diagram, making a table, using a variable, acting it out, using logical reasoning, guessing and checking, working backwards, and experimenting.

One other question no one seems to be asking about this problem is this: Why are teachers using Common Core math working on math problems such as “5×3” in a 3rd grade class? As a science teacher, I help students develop these skills even further by providing them with more opportunities to experience critical thinking firsthand. The state’s Promise Scholarship program, tuition assistance intended to halt the exodus of talent and keep the state’s best and brightest at home, hasn’t worked as intended.

Despite the claim to be “a dream come true” for first-generation students, most who qualify tend to come from families whose children would likely attend college anyway. But more disturbing still is a likelihood that those in positions to affect education positively are engaged instead in obstructionist activities and behavior intended to deliver a dependable stream of labor to the state’s most influential industries. An example of an inquiry project that I use in my science classroom is called “What are things made of?” Students investigate their surrounding environment and research what elements are in the things around them. O’Brien is executive director of “The Virtual Center for Study of the Constitution and Civic Responsibility” and president of Training/Arts, both based in Beckley.

He earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University and his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University.

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