Letter to the Editor:

Two recent letters from Bruce Dobsch and Bob Wickes about the Common Core standards for public schools continue to peddle the misunderstandings and political biases so often used to criticize Common Core and the use of standards in our public schools. Mr. Dobsch should know better, as he has been a board member for almost two years. Mr. Wickes is understandably biased, as he is the current committee chairman for the London Britain Republican Party.

Common Core addresses only one part of public education: academic standards, which are the skills and knowledge required at each grade. The other components of public education – teachers, curriculum, administration, class size, technology, etc. --are, and will remain, completely within the control of local school districts. With adoption of Common Core, there will be no "wholesale replacement of programs" as Mr. Dobsch alleges. It's simply improving one component of the system.

Standards are determined by state boards of education, not the federal government or local school districts. Why do we have state standards and not local ones? Without state standards, there can't be accurate comparison and accountability of schools across the Commonwealth. Before standards, school districts could set whatever standards they wanted and simply claim success. Taxpayers and parents naturally wanted more accountability. State-level standards are here to stay, no matter which ones are used. Even the Republican-sponsored "Student Success Act" education bill in the House of Representatives calls for state-level standards (Joe Pitts voted for the bill).

Let's not confuse standards with uniformity. Many people believe that standards and curriculum are the same thing. They are not. Standards are the "what" (e.g., "understand algebraic concepts"); curriculum is the "how" (e.g., lectures, demonstrations, worksheets, problem sets). All schools in Pennsylvania use the same standards, and have since the late 1990s. That means standards aren't the reason Avon Grove schools perform better than most other schools in Pennsylvania (or why other schools do so poorly). It is the "how," not the "what," that largely determines (along with demographics) the difference in student achievement across schools in the Commonwealth.

Common Core standards were developed over several years using a large number and variety of educators and education experts. Pennsylvania educators evaluated the standards and found them to be closely aligned with proposed revisions to current standards. Four public comment sessions were held. Common Core standards were adopted in 2010 with implementation planned for 2013-14. Local school districts have been studying the standards and revising curricula, as needed, for over a year. If Mr. Dobsch and Mr. Wickes, as well as state legislators, weren't aware of these activities then they weren't paying attention. There was nothing "secretive" about the process.

Pennsylvania updates its standards about every three years; therefore, adoption of Common Core doesn't add any new costs to public education. Whether it's Common Core or a different set of standards, there is always a cost to updating systems, assessments and curricula that are impacted by the standards.

Both Mr. Dobsch and Mr. Wickes have raised concerns about the privacy of student data. Perhaps they are not aware that adoption of Common Core requires no new data collection or sharing; that all student data is protected by federal and state law; that "longitudinal" (i.e, multi-year) data is already collected by the state as part of No Child Left Behind; that student data is used for reporting, accountability and, most importantly, informing instruction at the local level. Student privacy should always be a concern. Common Core doesn't change current privacy policies.

Common Core is not a federal mandate. Adoption of Common Core is not even a requirement of the $41million Race To The Top grant awarded to Pennsylvania. That money is to be used primarily for implementing teacher evaluation systems. Pennsylvania willingly adopted Common Core after careful consideration, due diligence and public comment; there was no "forcing" or "bribing."

These facts are easily and publicly available. What I find astounding is that neither Mr. Dobsch nor Mr. Wickes (nor the vast majority of Common Core critics) addresses, with any specificity or validation, the quality of any of the standards. Why all this objection if you haven't even read the standards and compared them to current standards, or don't know how they are used in schools? Who are you getting this misinformation from and why are you peddling it without verification or analysis? Voters should expect more from current and aspiring board members.

 

Brian Gaerity

Landenberg, Pa.

Candidate for Avon Grove Board of School Directors