By J.P. Crumrine

News Editor


California has adopted and Hemet Unified School District is implementing the next educational reform — Common Core State Standards.


What is CCSS and why is it implemented?

In 2001, the U.S. Congress enacted the “No Child Left Behind Act,” which placed emphasis on setting high goals or standards to motivate students to learn and to perform better. While its success is moderate, Idyllwild School has consistently improved and is now among the top performing schools in HUSD and the state.

However, criticism quickly formed around the concept that instruction focused on language arts and math. Other subjects, especially the arts, were de-emphasized because standardized testing was aimed at language arts and math exclusively.

CCSS, which 45 states have adopted, still sets goals, but the learning process has changed. The CCSS initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English, language arts and mathematics. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce, according to the CCSS website on the National Governors Association site.

As HUSD Superintendent Dr. Barry Kayrell has said, “It’s the most significant change we’ve seen in pedagogy in many, many years. Technology has greatly impacted how teachers teach.”


How is CCSS different?

Implementing and teaching to these common standards revises the goal from knowing facts to becoming self-sufficient. In the former instructional models, the teacher stood before the class, like Socrates, and was the keeper of knowledge. Going forward, the “core curriculum” will shift emphasis to the students to do their own research on each subject, Kayrell has said.

NCLB was implemented differently in each state. The general approach of using standardized testing to measure students and, therefore, school achievement was national. However, states chose their own tests and interpretation of the results.

Eventually, professional educators argued that writing quality was not different in Montana from Georgia, nor were math concepts unique to the Great Lakes compared to the East and West coasts. So a common core of standards was developed within the education community and gradually individual states have endorsed it.

And Kayrell is not the only CCSS fan. Riverside Unified School District is also well along in its implementation. David Dillon of Idyllwild is a member of RUSD’s history faculty and is also a proponent of the common core direction.

“It’s what you can do with what you know. Kids have to do more,” he explained. “It’s application rather than memorization.”

Another distinction is that common core incorporates all the possible subjects into the evaluation. For example, the English reading sample assesses the students’ ability to interpret social science concepts or understand scientific principles and apply them to life.

“It’s analysis and problem solving that is being evaluated,” Dillon stressed. So the focus becomes similar to the cliché parable of teaching someone to fish versus giving them a fish.

No longer is success defined by facts, such as knowing the dates of the Civil War or its battles. Students have to learn how to understand why it was fought and what the opposing arguments were as well as the ultimate victors and losers.

In his opinion, this will enable teachers to garner a more authentic assessment of students’ learning. “Kids will have to show how to build models to apply practical concepts to problems,” Kayrell said. “No longer will a verbatim repetition of the teacher’s lesson be sufficient. Students will have to display problem-solving skills and teamwork.

“We’ve piloted several segments [of the core curriculum]. They provide an almost instantaneous result,” Kayrell said.


HUSD implementation

But CCSS does not come unopposed nor will its implementation obviate objections. First, in many locales across the country, teachers and parents don’t view the approach as any different than NCLB. They argue that CCSS is akin to Chevy’s or Ford’s new model. Testing is testing and it’s the educational testing and book publishing industry advocating a new approach with the accompaniment of new costs.

California’s legislature appropriated millions of dollars this year and next for its implementation. The decision on how to use those funds was left to local districts with some guidelines. Dr. David Horton, HUSD assistant superintendent for Educational Services, presented the administration’s recommendation at the board’s Oct. 15 meeting. HUSD has about $4.5 million to use.

HUSD is allocating $30 per student at each school. Idyllwild School will receive $8,460 each year. Horton said the district still has to address the effect of CCSS on middle-school math and special-education programs, which are a big component. Also training and preparing coaches for each school and subject will require significant resources.

Several teachers, including Thomas Dillon of Idyllwild, argued that money should be shifted from professional development to technology and supplies. “We’ve got kids very economically stressed. Kids can’t afford to leave the valley, kids who can’t buy printer paper,” he lamented to the board.


Federal funding

Finally, California expects to have implementation of Common Core essentially implemented over the next two years. The tests based on CCSS will not be available until the 2014-15 school. Consequently, California legislators opposed to the standardized testing have postponed it until Common Core is fully implemented.

However, the U.S. Department of Education has threatened to withhold federal funds if the state eliminates the tests this year. The NCLB Act requires the annual testing and without it California would be in default. Initially, $15 million of administrative funds is in jeopardy. Eventually, $3.5 billion of federal money for California schools could be threatened, the department said last month.

On Monday, Nov. 4, HUSD held the first of three community meetings to discuss CCSS and its purpose. Two more sessions, one perhaps in Idyllwild or Anza, will be scheduled later this year.


College- and career-oriented

The whole impetus for CCSS was “college and workplace readiness.” In a 2010 report, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and the Southern Regional Education Board found 68 percent of the 50,000 entering freshmen at California State University campuses require remediation in English language arts or math, or both. This occurred despite an admissions policy that requires a college-preparatory curriculum and a grade-point-average in high school of B or higher.

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected]