Board Chair Randy Weiner said the city school district has been rolling out implementation of the nationwide education standards since 2011. It also purchased “On Core” math books for elementary school teachers and students and non-fiction texts for fifth- and sixth-graders.
“Our administrators were trained back in May 2011,” he said. “Teachers also received professional development in 2011. Curriculum writing and unit assessments were written in summer 2012, and we fully implemented (K-12) Common Core in the classroom beginning August 2012.”
Cobb County Schools began teaching Common Core math in classrooms last fall.
The city school board approved the addition of three- and-a-half new literacy specialists last month to work with kindergarten through third grade teachers on implementing Common Core lessons, and the district sends out two newsletters a month, one for teachers and one for parents, with more information on Common Core.
“I think Common Core is a move in the right direction,” Weiner said. “It’s important to note that Common Core is a set of standards and does not dictate curriculum and teaching methods.”
Opponents in Cobb have said that requiring students to know certain things for a nationwide standardized test will eventually lead to a national curriculum as local school systems are forced into more “teaching to the test.”
But a majority of Weiner’s board agrees with him that Common Core is an upgrade and not something to be feared or loathed.
Jill Mutimer, who represents Ward 4, said Common Core aligns well with the Georgia Performance Standards, which she thinks were a “definite increase in rigor” from previous standards.
“Also, it allows for more ease of transfer of students between systems and states, to ensure consistent standards,” she said.
Mutimer said she doesn’t believe some of the accusations that it “dumbs down” lessons.
“There are aspects that could be beefed up, like providing background context to reading samples, but individual systems have the latitude to adjust if necessary,” she said. “These standards are rigorous in general.”
She also addressed the question of losing local control, as brought up by many opponents of Common Core during an April Cobb School Board meeting. They argued that the new standards allow the federal government to control what is taught in their local schools.
“I happen to agree with it, after all, Marietta City Schools is a charter system,” she said. “We truly value local control at the lowest level. However, I did not hear much of this talk last fall when the same politicians were endorsing the Charter School Amendment, which created another state bureaucracy that bypassed local control.”
More or less rigorous?
Another major concern among Cobb’s school board and some parents is that Common Core standards are not as rigorous as they should be and that they will lead to a “one size fits all” curriculum that “dumbs down” the classroom.
Marietta’s Ward 2 board member Tony Fasola said he isn’t concerned about the new standards because it follows suit with Marietta City’s goal to prepare students as best they can for college or work after graduating from high school.
“It is a set of standards that, in my mind, has increased the rigor of the curriculum that we offer,” he said. “The enhanced rigor will ultimately benefit our students.”
Irene Berens, who represents Ward 7, said because educators have been working on this new curriculum for so long, they should continue to honor their hard work and help with the implementation, while keeping an open mind.
“The train has left the station, and putting up a huge roadblock on the track will only cause a train wreck at this point,” she said about opponents of Common Core. “Is this the right direction for MCS students? It will be if we implement with the same commitment and high standards that we demand for all of our students and our teachers. We continue to strive to prepare our students for life success.”
The newest board member, Ward 1’s Brett Bittner, was not serving on the board when the standards were adopted, so he said it was difficult for him to say whether it’s a move in the right direction for Marietta until he sees “real world results.”
He did say that he commends Marietta Superintendent Emily Lembeck and her senior staff for their efforts in keeping abreast of the latest developments with Common Core, including the lagging releases from the Georgia Department of Education.
Still some concerns
The board’s overall satisfaction with the standards doesn’t mean there aren’t a few concerns.
Fasola said he’s specifically worried about costs involving the new assessments, because they will be mandated by the state, but politicians have continued to cut budgets for the past several years.
Weiner agreed, adding that he anticipates seeing a slight dip in test scores initially, as they saw with the implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards.
“As with a change in any new material, there will be a learning curve with both teachers and students the first year,” he said.
Weiner said he also has read stories about people who worry about the standards being based on the new test for Common Core — and, therefore, “teaching to the test.” But he doesn’t see that problem.
“Students must be able to delineate the information given, in order to perform well,” he said. “Teachers do not know which standards will be emphasized more heavily from year to year, so all standards should be covered leading up to the PARCC assessment.”
Mutimer said she is concerned about the pending science and social studies standards for Common Core and hopes that they won’t be “slanted” to one political view.
“However, the English/language arts and math standards that have been rolled out are good in general, she said.
Berens questioned the move toward more non-fiction books being required.
“There should be a happy medium,” she said.
Bittner said he’s worried that Common Core focuses on “uniformity by aiming for the middle,” when he believes schools should be focusing on individualized education models to allow students to grow and learn.