For the past two weeks we have been discussing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in this column. Last week I reported that the Legislature had included language in the budget of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) which would prohibit them from using state funds to implement or support the CCSS. Last week Governor Snyder signed a state budget that includes this language. The Legislature must now revisit the issue and pass a bill allowing the MDE to continue their efforts on the Common Core before the state budget goes into effect on Oct. 1.
Since that time I have been asked some very good questions about what this action will mean especially at the local level. Because I assume that others may have wondered about these things as well, I am devoting this space to attempting to give some answers.
First, the immediate impact financially will be on the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). They will not be allowed to spend any money to implement or support Common Core. Eventually, but not immediately, that would have an impact on local schools. This legislation potentially would mean fewer resources for schools and a giant step backwards academically — putting our students and schools at a severe disadvantage that could last for years.
The State Superintendent Mike Flanagan and the MDE both say that this prohibition will jeopardize federal funding. If the state loses the flexibility waiver under No Child Left Behind, every student in Michigan will be required to be 100 percent proficient in math and reading by next year. This would likely lead to sanctions on these schools, including the possibility of them being taken over by the state
Greenville Public Schools and others in the county have already invested in training staff, auditing and aligning curriculum and assessments, and learning teaching strategies designed to improve achievement in this much more ambitious problem-solving curriculum. Sometimes that has meant using substitute teachers. The cost for that is not only monetary, but in the loss of teacher time in front of students. Once again I remind you that these standards will establish what students will need to learn, they will not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.
At Greenville schools it is likely that once CCSS is adopted, older texts will be cycled out for newer ones that are aligned to the new standards. The district is in a constant cycle of replacing texts, but doing so now without national standards guiding the publishers may result in buying the best fit available. If or when a Common Core is well implemented across the nation, textbook publishers will have a real incentive to align to those standards, and likely produce textbooks that are better aligned with CCSS.
It is difficult to understand why this debate is taking place at this time when the Common Core was approved by the state in 2010 and work preparing for the implementation has been ongoing since then. There appears to be widespread acceptance of the wisdom of students across the country working toward the same outcomes. Many of the state’s major newspapers have come out in support of Common Core. Those opposing it need to make a better case for turning back now.
Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.