Quest for compromise on common core
In a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger that it disseminated in the days leading to a critical vote, an influential group of K-12 and university educators, researchers and policymakers has urged the adoption of the Common Core standards in English language arts and math.
“We believe that the Common Core Standards represent the next crucial step in ensuring California’s education system once again leads the way in quality and rigor,” Jennifer O’Day wrote on behalf of the California Collaborative on District Reform.
Members of the collaborative include former Deputy State Superintendent Rick Miller; Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West; Fresno Unified Supt. Michael Hanson; Holly Jacobson, assistant executive director of the California School Boards Assn.; Ellen Moir, CEO of the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz; and several noted researchers and foundation leaders. O’Day is a research scientist with the American Institutes for Research.
By tomorrow afternoon, it will become clearer whether the state is going to adopt common core standards as the guideposts for a new curriculum, textbook revisions and future assessments. The 21-member California State Content Standards Commission must decide whether to recommend the national standards intact or with changes to the State Board of Education. This morning, the commission is expected to pass the English language arts standards with some additions incorporating California’s current standards.
From there, it’s anyone guess. In California, debate on math standards always comes around to Algebra I – whether it should be taught to all students in eighth grade, as Gov. Schwarzenegger and the State Board of Education advocate. Common core standards permit this, but don’t push it; instead, strands of algebra would be taught from sixth through ninth grades.
Some commissioners, led by Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution and Ze’ev Wurman, a software engineer from Palo Alto, will likely call for incorporating the state’s algebra standards into common core eighth grade standards, while some of the practicing teachers on the commission, frustrated with pushing algebra on students who aren’t ready for it, will likely argue to leave common core intact, with between a half and two-thirds of algebra taught after eighth grade.
Both sides will argue that rigor, like God, is on their side.
In her letter, O’Day of the California Collaborative on District Reform states the case for common-core adoption:
- “The Common Core Standards are as rigorous as California’s current standards. By starting with anchor standards rooted in what it takes to be college- and career-ready and then linking the standards across all grades back to that outcome, the Common Core maintains the rigorous expectations of California’s current standards and accountability system.”
- “The Common Core Standards in mathematics provide clear steps across the grades to prepare students for success in algebra, a gateway course for both college and career.”
- “The Common Core would strengthen our ability to ensure that all California students have equitable access to a rigorous college- and career-ready curriculum.”
Focus on 15 percent changes
The sponsors of common core – the National Governors Assn. and the Council of Chief
State School Officers – are allowing states to supplement common core with up to 15 percent additional standards, although measuring what constitutes that number is imprecise.
The Collaborative on District Reform urges the standards commission to refrain from big changes: “We urge the state to keep any expansion of the Common Core to a minimum so that the Common Core in California will in fact allow deeper exploration of fewer content strands.”
Rather than get bogged down in intricate wording changes, the collaborative recommends a two-step process: Adopt common core now and then return at a later date to augment the standards.
But that’s not likely to happen, because the Standards Commission goes out of business after Thursday, and the State Board, which is to meet on Aug. 2 to vote common core, with changes, up or down, has no authority to alter what the Standards Commission recommends.
The word I hear is that members of the commission have been working frantically to draft extensive revisions to common core centering on Algebra I, while not messing too much with K-6 common core math standards – an acknowledgment that they’re pretty good.
I also hear there’s a strong behind-the-scenes effort to compromise.
Perhaps sensing they may not have a majority, Schwarzenegger’s folks may be backing off universal Algebra in eighth grade, while still making it a long-term goal. There would be an intact algebra course in eighth grade for the majority of students; currently about 60 percent take it either in seventh or eighth grade, although many repeat it in ninth grade. Shifting some common-core seventh and eighth grade standards down a grade in theory would prepare even more California students to take algebra by eighth grade.
At least that’s one option of many. If last week’s meetings were a prelude, the next two days’ votes will be confusing, and discussions will be difficult. If common core’s defenders go toe to toe with Evers, who can be abrupt and imperious, the debate should be interesting, if not tense.
Catch it if you can here.