About 30 people attended a public listening session Thursday, Jan. 9, at Roxboro Road Middle School in Mattydale to learn more about Common Core.
The informational session was one of several hosted throughout the year by the North Syracuse Central School District, though this one had a more specific focus than the others.
“We have three listening sessions a year, and they generally have no particular focus,” said Superintendent Annette Speach. “But we had one in the fall at Cicero Elementary, and it had a pretty small turnout, but we spent most of the time talking about questions on Common Core. A lot of parents wondered if there was a way to get more information. So that’s why we repurposed tonight’s session, to help focus on the topic and help people become more comfortable with the curriculum.”
Common Core learning standards are a more rigorous benchmark initially approved by the New York State Board of Regents in 2010. The requirements, which have been adopted in states across the country, are aimed at helping children acquire sophisticated reasoning skills. The goal behind these standards is to move the schools away from rote learning to a writing-intensive curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving skills. They were rolled out statewide last year, but in many cases schools and teachers weren’t provided with the necessary materials to implement the curriculum. That didn’t stop the state from using said curriculum in the most recent round of state assessment tests, resulting in record-low scores statewide.
Since its implementation, Common Core has continued to draw the ire of parents for a variety of reasons. Some object to the standardization of the curriculum, while others are concerned with the age-inappropriateness of some of the course materials. Many parents have expressed frustration with the nature of the work and the expectations being placed on their children, leading to statewide efforts to recall the curriculum and Opt Out days where parents keep their children home from school in objection to Common Core.
In North Syracuse, John Kuryla, health teacher in the district and president of the North Syracuse Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union, headed up Thursday’s presentation, which was meant to provide information on the origins of Common Core, the standards it set forth and how North Syracuse is adhering to those standards. The evening also featured a panel of elementary school teachers available to answer general questions on the implementation of Common Core, though many of the parents present had questions more specifically geared to their own children’s experiences.
According to Kuryla’s presentation, there were several factors prompting the implementation of Common Core.
“Initially, the impetus was that there were different standards all across the U.S.,” Kuryla said. “The thought was that if all states had a common standard, we could reduce the gaps in learning.”
This issue was of particular concern for children in more transient families, particularly military families that had to move frequently. Those children often had large educational gaps as they moved from state to state. That’s a problem faced in the North Syracuse district, Kuryla said.
“In this building, as well as at Roxboro Road Elementary and Bear Road Elementary and the high school, we have a great transient population,” he said. “We have a lot of kids moving in and out. It’s very difficult for the classroom teacher to assess their educational level when the child comes in, where their gaps are. Picture that at a national level.”
In addition, advocates of Common Core were concerned about global competition.
“In the mid-1980s, we were doing really well economically, leading many of the other nations. Today is a dramatically different situation,” Kuryla said. ‘We’re no longer the economic powerhouse we were, and we’re lagging behind in our educational system. Common Core is meant to ensure that all kids are getting similar information so they can be prepared for the job market. We’re preparing kids for jobs that have yet to be created. Technology is transitioning at such a rapid pace that the technology in front of you will be obsolete by the time these kids are in the work force. We need to be prepared for all those changes.”
In order to meet all of those goals and standardize a rigorous curriculum, the federal government created standards that were then adapted by each state. New York’s Common Core curriculum called for several changes in the fields of English and language arts (ELA) and math.
For ELA, those changes are as follows:
Read as much non-fiction as fiction
Learn about the world by reading
Read more challenging material closely
Discuss reading using evidence
Write non-fiction using evidence
Increase academic vocabulary
In math, the Common Core changes are as follows:
Focus: Learn more about fewer, key topics
Coherence: Build skills within and across grades
Rigor: Develop speed and accuracy
Really know it, really do it
Use it in the real world
Think fast and solve problems
“These standards are a framework,” Kuryla said. “They’re not supplanting anything we’ve done in North Syracuse for a number of years. We fill in with our primary tenets, what we feel are most important. It’s based on real-world application.”
Kuryla acknowledged that there were issues with Common Core, but he said he believed most of them came from the state’s poor rollout of the system.
“I am not going to be, ‘this is killing us, this is the worst thing ever,’ because guess what? It’s regulation. It’s law. And we are going to come forward and say it’s a positive,” he said. “And I’ve dug into Core. If Core is implemented and rolled out properly, this is a gift. This will in fact bring us to that next level. But whenever there’s change and transition, that first year, there’s going to be change and pushback, and you have to be solid and walk through it, because if you don’t, all we keep doing is going back and forth. We’re not waffling on Core. Our job is to make sure that when they take those state assessments, they’re prepared.”
Given the concerns expressed by the parents at the meeting, the district is looking to compile a resource page on its website to assist parents. More specific meetings geared toward curriculum content will also likely take place in the future. For more information, visit nscsd.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.