Common Core Concerns Aired At Worcester Board Meeting

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Board of Education reviewed federal Common Core State Standards (CCSS) at its meeting this week.

Those standards have been phased in over the last year with the expectation that they will be fully implemented by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. While the board was satisfied with how the county has interacted with CCSS, several residents criticized the standards and claimed the school is is sacrificing educational autonomy to the federal government.

According to Stephanie Zanich, director of Tests and Assessments for Worcester County Public Schools, CCSS is a “list of skills that we expect students to know to be successful.” There has been some controversy over the standards as they were developed over the last few years. Opponents have argued that the federal government will be yanking control of education away from the states and counties.

However, Zanich told the board Tuesday that while the standards may be nationally controlled, local classroom autonomy will remain.

“It is important to note that our curriculum is a locally developed curriculum and it provides that autonomy for school systems, teachers and schools to develop it and then incorporate it into their day-to-day instruction,” she said.

Educators have been enthusiastic about the process because the board has made sure to include them at every point, added Zanich.

“We have built teacher buy-in. When I’ve worked with the teachers, they are supportive of what we are doing because we’ve included them in professional development and decision making,” she said.

There was some disagreement from residents on how much autonomy the county will actually keep.

“I’m here to destroy the myth because what you had this morning was a myth,” John Abent told the Board of Education.

Referring to CCSS as a “Trojan horse,” Abent insisted that locally controlled curriculum will be an illusion under Common Core.

“If I control the standards and I control the assessments, I control the curriculum,” he said.

Resident Grant Helvey warned the board that, in his opinion, they have taken a leap before looking by agreeing to adopt the standards back in August 2010. He gave a hypothetical scenario where he offered the Board of Education $472 million in funding with the condition that it would have to accept his curriculum without reviewing it.

“I wonder if you would sign a contract to accept my $472 million. Would you take that and then implement a curriculum in the future based on those unknowns?” Helvey asked.

By adopting CCSS, Helvey predicted that Worcester will run into trouble in the future in the form of unexpected requirements or costs.

“You’re learning about it today and the train has already left the station and is well on its way,” he said.

After several more similar comments from other residents, Board of Education President Bob Rothermel pointed out Worcester did have a good picture of what the standards would mean when it agreed to it in 2010 and that an incredible amount of study and planning has been devoted to understanding it.

The support teachers have shown is telling, according to Board of Education member Sara Thompson.

“They know it’s going to work and they know it’s the best for our students,” she said.

Zanich underlined that CCSS is only the “foundation on which we build our curriculum” and the county will maintain flexibility in the classroom. While the concerns of residents were noted, Rothermel made it clear that the board still plans to fully implement Common Core by the end of the next school year.