March 4, 2014

School officials in Fort Mill defend Common Core

Fort Mill educators want to clear up what they consider misconceptions about Common Core academic standards, which have stirred up controversy in Fort Mill and other school districts.

Parents have mixed feelings about Common Core and how it is implemented in their children’s classrooms.

Common Core academic standards were the result of an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Teams of content specialists and educators from across the country wrote the standards, said Marty McGinn, assistant superintendent for the Fort Mill School District. They were developed based on feedback from states, teachers, researchers, college and universities, parents and others invested in education, she said.

The standards are used by individual districts to form a curriculum.

“We own the curriculum,” McGinn said.

The concept is intended to create a unified, national standard that will better position students for college and post-secondary success. Detractors say its wrests control from school boards and administrators.

A bill making its way through the S.C. Senate Education Committee would require a review of math and reading standards by 2018 and legislative approval for future changes to curriculum in public schools. The bill replaced a measure that sought to repeal the standards.

McGinn said the Fort Mill School District works with teachers to develop strategies to meet the Common Core standards. While some parents expressed concern about the assessment of the standards at a recent school board meeting – as well as at private meetings and a public forum last week – McGinn said she has received positive feedback from parents and teachers. about the new standards and instructional changes.

“A lot of the teachers are energized as they work on implementation. We are excited too,” she said, emphasizing the cooperation between teachers and the central office.

McGinn said based on feedback she’s getting from parents, the curriculum is on the right track.

“Parents feel like their children are being challenged and learning things will need in the future,” she said.

Chuck Epps, superintendent of the Fort Mill School District, said the standards help prepare students for a world increasingly driven by new technology and provides them the tools to enter the work force or higher education.

“It’s an economic development issue for us,” Epps said.

In a follow-up email, he explained why:

“We are being told by employers that they want students who can display higher level thinking and problem solving abilities. We will not be able to attract higher paying skilled jobs to SC unless we have a ready workforce. This initiative is simply an effort to connect the dots between a better educated workforce prepared to accept higher skilled employment leading to a more prosperous quality of life for future South Carolinians,” Epps wrote.

Specialists and educators from across the country wrote the standards. There were multiple rounds of feedback from states, teachers, researchers, higher education, and the public.

Kelly McKinney, media and communications officer for the Fort Mill School District, said she has seen the benefit Common Core has brought to the classrooms.

“Teachers I have talked to are energized by the standards and what they are teaching the children,” she said.

Sugar Creek Elementary’s Amber Smith, who has been teaching for 15 years, said learning a new set of standards is nothing new in her profession and that teachers still have the freedom to make instructional decisions.

“The basic idea of what a ‘standard’ is hasn’t changed,” she said, and that with any new standard, there is a learning process.

“There has been a lot of communication across elementary schools,” Smith said. “There are resources available to us.”

Smith said she is happy to answer questions from parents.

Vaidehi Patel, a member of the Gold Hill Elementary PTA, said she is concerned the standards are doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to her son’s math progress.

“I think Common Core is not making them smart, but are making them confused,” she said. “I am worried about how in the long term it might harm our children.”

Susan Certo, whose son is a seventh-grader at Gold Hill Middle School, said she fears the standards force federal control of local schools.

“Common Core changes everything about school except the buildings, lunches and buses,” she said. “The standards drive the curriculum.”

Certo said many parents did not know about the Common Core standards, adopted by South Carolina in 2010, until this year.

“Parents are finally waking up to it,” she said. “I’m very passionate about this issue. I think Common Core is bad for our state and our nation.”

Parents also shared their concerns and heard from both sides of the Common Core debate during a Feb. 24 forum held in Rock Hill. Clover School District’s Assistant Superintendent Shelia Quinn and Judy Mobley, executive director of secondary education for the Rock Hill School District, spoke in favor of the Common Core.

American Principles Project’s Jane Robbins and South Carolina Parents Involved in Education President Sheri Few presented their opposition to the standards. Few is a candidate for S.C. Superintendent of Education.

Quinn, who said she was speaking as both an educator and a parent, said the standards were designed by a team of experts in the fields of math and literacy and do not dictate what is taught in schools.

“There is a big difference between standards and the curriculum,” she said.

Those opposed argued the curriculum is designed to teach students what they need for the test, which is based on Common Core standards.

“The test drives what is taught in the classroom,” Few said.

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