Common Core causes disquiet

BY SYDNEY WIDELL —

District staff works to accommodate new educational standards

Despite any backlash within the district or in Madison over the Common Core Academic Standards, the Shorewood School District expects a successful and seamless implementation of the new initiative.

In July, Governor Walker called on the state legislature to repeal Common Core by early January; while no decisive action has taken place yet, this discussion will continue throughout the fall and into early winter. Initially an apparent supporter of the program, Gov. Walker has since led nationwide efforts to end it. Neither its critics nor advocates in Shorewood believe that this new round of debate will amount to anything or have much effect on the school’s curriculum.

“It’s all political … With politicians, the safest thing to do is nothing,” said Nancy Peske, a Shorewood parent, alumna and founder of the organization Shorewood Parents Concerned About Common Core.

Timothy Kenney, principal, agrees.

“There’s a lot of political struggle,” Kenney said. “We’re stuck in the middle.”

Common Core was designed to create consistent educational standards for students all across the country, establishing skills and knowledge baselines in core subjects like English, mathematics and science.

“Shorewood has very high standards, but Wisconsin didn’t,” said Paru Shah, former chair of the Shorewood School Board Curriculum Committee.

Wisconsin schools had previously based their curriculum on the Wisconsin State Standards, which were similar to those outlined by Common Core and had been in place for nearly 15 years. It was easy for the district to convert to the new program, a process that has been underway for several years.

However, critics doubt the effectiveness of the new system.

“The whole process is dubious. It has the potential to be really disruptive and damaging to Shorewood education,” Peske said.

Peske fears that, because the system has never been tested, it will challenge teachers and lower the quality of education for students.

Debra Schwinn, social studies teacher, agrees.

“The implementation has been botched in so many ways because it was rushed. We just need to be extremely cautious with Common Core. We need to be aware of what our own goals and aims for this place are and be sure that Common Core can be complementary to what we do and not something that takes us over and changes us into something we’re not,” Schwinn said.

“It pushes the curriculum and the way teachers teach,” Peske said. “Common Core is a complex, top-bottom initiative.”

The district opted to align with the standards rather than adopting them, allowing students to familiarize themselves with content that will later appear on standardized tests, while still enjoying the high caliber education offered at Shorewood.

Much like they did 15 years ago, departments met and adjusted their curriculum to conform to the new standards, though most of the changes will not affect the material, only the sequence in which it will be taught. The district has already aligned with standards in English and social studies, and is almost aligned in math.  Not only does the school meet the standards, it regularly exceeds them.

“The material hasn’t changed, just the way it is being taught,” Shah said.

“They want more depth of knowledge, we already do that. We’ve always done that. Not much is going to change,” Kenney said. “It’s not going to change educational delivery.”

The biggest change students will notice is the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a new standardized test that will evaluate students in mathematics and reading. The WKCE will still be administered to assess students in science, social studies and language arts.

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