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New School Standards Rolling Out Across San Diego County

California is one of 45 states moving toward using new, voluntary national curriculum guidelines for mathematics and English called the Common Core. This is the first year most of San Diego County’s schools will at least be trying the guidelines on for size. At a training this week, principals discussed how to lead teachers, students and parents through the change.

Aired 8/29/13 on KPBS News.

Principals from across San Diego County focus on how to lead schools through large shifts in teaching and learning.

Under the Common Core standards, students will focus less on learning lots of facts and more on developing skills like problem solving, forming arguments based on evidence and working effectively in teams.

Jessica McCreary has been leading teacher and administrator trainings on what’s in the standards for the San Diego County Office of Education and a principal-in-residence since 2010. Now she’s teaching principals to communicate just how fundamental the changes are.

“Don’t just go around and tell teachers ‘you have these new standards, here’s your new books, here’s your new assessment. Now do it,’" she said. "Instead really think about what it means to get people to change their practice in the classroom, to change the way even students perceive their education.”

The teachers at Challenger Middle School in Mira Mesa will be trying out Common Core lessons this year. Principal Diane Ryan said the idea is to give students complex skills and connect classroom learning to the real world they’ll encounter after high school or college.

“The ability to research, gather and synthesize information – and then what do you do with it? Ya know, what’s the moral purpose driving any of that work," she said. "What good does it do, research on global warming, if we don’t take action?”

Students will be reading more nonfiction in their English classes and focus on supporting their ideas or arguments about what they've read by citing evidence from the texts. They'll also be doing a lot more writing.

At Carson Elementary in Linda Vista teachers will be working on how to get students writing "across the curriculum," Principal Joe Frescatore said.

"That means writing in science, writing in math," he said. "Writing about what students understand, not just the process of what they've done. That's something you have to explicitly teach — students, and adults too, aren't used to writing about understanding, they're focused on process."

At Westwood Elementary School in Poway Unified, Principal Michael Mosgrove said his teachers worked on lining up their writing curriculum with the new standards last year. This year, they're focused on shifting math instruction.

The shift they'll be working on is moving away from starting with teaching students the different functions, like multiplication and division, toward starting with real-world situations that students will need to use math to solve.

As the director of special education for the Grossmont Union High School District, Rose Tagnesi said when she and her staff first saw the standards, they worried the more complex approach to learning would be hard for her students. Now, she said, she believes the focus on critical thinking and documenting the process used to get an answer will actually be a boon for students who have struggled under the current standards.

"Finding the answer, and finding the right answer has always been a challenge for our students," Tagnesi said. "But the focus on process, on asking 'how did you get to that answer?' I think will be an opportunity for our students to really shine."

But the principals at this week's training in San Marcos are already familiar with what's in the Common Core. What they're talking about now is how to help their teachers shift to the new standards smoothly and how to convince them the shift is important and urgently needed.

"When you look at the statistics about how many students are getting bachelor's degrees and how many jobs will require degrees in the future, you see we're going to be at a shortage soon," McCreary, the trainer, said. "So, we really have to be graduating kids who have the skills they'll need to be college and career ready."

At the eleventh hour, Governor Jerry Brown set aside $1 billion of this year's unexpected tax revenue increase for districts to spend for the next two years on implementing the new standards. The money is earmarked for expenses such as technology purchases, teacher and administrator trainings and classroom materials that are in line with the Common Core. While California adopted the standards in 2010, these are the first state funds dedicated to the dramatic shift.

California is adopting new standardized tests that go along with the Common Core. The online exams include open-answer questions and will be widely tested next spring. They’ll be used to judge school and student performance starting in 2015.

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | August 29, 2013 at 10:18 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

The education system is in such a mess right now. There isn't ever going to be meaningful change without a radical restructuring of how we approach the idea of educating our children.

-First and foremost, public schools are free childcare. This may seem like a major convenience to some, but ultimately eschews the underlying purpose of voluntarily placing your child into a center of education. Furthermore, the idea of free childcare tends to keep already stressed parents at arm's length, which is the exact opposite approach needed for both the success of the student and the teachers.

-The idea of meeting up in a building to do schooling is not only inconvenient, but costly as well. I understand there are exceptions with regards to laboratory work, certain sports programs, and access to special tools/materials. But beyond that, what is the argument for meeting for math, history, or language classes? Is the real estate, heating/cooling, and maintenance costs justified? Why is online instruction or video conferencing not the superior option, from a cost-benefit perspective?

-Many schools are not making use of technology, or are under-utilizing it. In my community, children recently started using iPads, This was initially loathed by many, in part due to the perceived increase in cost and technology. (Computers cost more than pencils and paper, so it seems like extravagant spending)

I just thought they shouldn't have used such an expensive technology. Many tablets of equal capability are available for nearly half the price. Anyone who is familiar with Apple products can tell you they don't come with extreme capabilities, but rather user-friendly interfacing, and that no-duh setup comes with a premium price.

But the bigger point is, tablets and computers can replace everything. No more heavy textbooks, all your resources are online.. It's a glorious thing. Schools should be embracing this technology, and allowing students to advance at their own pace, rather than through an age-dependent, timed class. Other uses of technology exist, but this is far and away the biggest potential.

-Age dependency, like I just touched on. Schools should not group children into rooms based on age. That is a horrible approach to a broad educational process. A child might excel in math but write poor essays. Should this child not have the opportunity to advance in one subject while slowly progressing, if not ignoring, the inferior subject?

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | August 29, 2013 at 10:18 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

-Relevant curriculum. Yes, math and reading and science are all important. But so is knowing how to unclog your toilet, and you can learn to do that without any school. We should be teaching the core concepts of key studies, but also incorporate things that apply to the modern life. Once a child has demonstrated knowledge of math up to basic algebra, and is taught how to use a calculator, is there any "real world" math instruction left? Do we really need to mandate life sciences or english?

I would love to see areas of study such as: Personal finance - short/long term investment and spending practices, Home cooking/gardening and basic nutrition, Exercise and physical health, How to avoid being deceived by advertising/marketing/financing/etc., Entrepreneurship (maybe the most overlooked), and what I feel is the MOST important and should be taught almost every year - Critical thinking.

Critical thinking should be the foundation for every decision, and this should be drilled into students. Question everything, and have a thirst for knowledge. Having time set aside for open discussions in every class would encourage this.

-Realistic expectations. The idea of post-ww2 America still lives on in too many people's subconscious. Sorry to break it to you, but there's probably no magic factory job waiting for a high school graduate. Especially not a job that allows you to afford a house, a stay at home wife, and a couple of kids.

College graduates in those days were practically guaranteed high paying jobs. This is obviously not true today. Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and can't be absolved through bankruptcy. Having a degree doesn't guarantee you anything anymore, save a few specialized areas of study. And it is those areas of study we should be promoting college for. Having 1,000 liberal arts graduates every year is like giving kids a lottery ticket instead of a degree. It's a sham. We need to stop lying to our children about the importance of college in a modern context.

Here's an excellent video:

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