'Common core' a hot topic at two community forums this week

Posted: Nov. 14, 2012 10:03 pm Updated: Nov. 28, 2012 11:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Quincy community got an introduction this week to some of the concepts involved in the "common core" educational standards being implemented in local schools.

The Quincy School District and the Quincy Federation of Teachers co-hosted two community forums Monday and Wednesday at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. The sessions were designed to tell parents, teachers and community residents some basic facts about the new standards and what they will mean for teaching and learning in Quincy's public schools.

About 75 people at Monday's session and about 85 at Wednesday's forum were told that the common core standards were developed, in part, to help level out the wide variance in learning standards that exist from state to state.

Trish Sullivan-Viniard, Quincy's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the goal is to establish a "common core of knowledge" that all students will have upon graduation so they will be successful as they proceed on to college, careers or the military.

"This is a new and critically important set of learning expectations for our students," she said during Wednesday's forum.

"It's not a national curriculum. They are not telling us exactly what to teach. They're not dictating the stories to be read or the textbooks to be used."

The standards merely set forth a list of basic skills and knowledge students will need in the future to be successful at the next step in their lives. "It's up to us to set forth the path to determine what will allow students to meet those expectations," Sullivan-Viniard said.

Illinois is one of 46 states adopting new learning standards and related testing based on the common core. New testing is slated to go into effect in the 2014-15 academic year, but many school systems, including Quincy, are already incorporating some elements of the common core standards into their curriculums.

"We're not there yet. We're still transitioning," Sullivan-Viniard said. "It's going to take a few years."

Statewide learning standards based on the common core have already been developed for math and "English/language arts," which encompasses reading, writing and speaking. More standards are still being developed for science, social studies and other subjects.

Quincy is making a concerted effort to educate parents and community residents about the new learning standards because school officials believe it will be imperative for everyone to be on board in helping students excel based on the new expectations.

"We really believe it's going to take the commitment of the community, and we want to inform and enlist and educate everyone in our community," Sullivan-Viniard said.

The forums were scheduled as part of an educational campaign being launched by the QFT, which received a $75,000 grant from the American Federation of Teachers to educate the public about the new common core standards.

Marilyn Smith, who was hired as project manager by the QFT, has been organizing a series of public events in connection with the educational campaign.

Smith told the audience Wednesday that the new educational standards will not only change the way students are taught, but it will also change the way tests are given so that a student's thinking skills will be emphasized.

More computerized testing will be involved in future years. Cal Lee, Quincy's interim superintendent, said "our district is not technologically ready" for the common core testing regimen of the future.

Lee called this "a front-burner issue" for the district.

George Meyer, a retired Quincy superintendent who serves on a steering committee guiding the implementation of the common core in Quincy, said he likes the concept of a national common core, but he has some concerns about how evenly this initiative will be carried out across the country.

In an interview, Meyer said schools across the country are being told to implement the common core however they see fit, but not much support is being provided to help school systems implement the new standards "other than say ‘Here it is. Here's the test. Go do it.'"

"It seems like there's no (national) movement to get it accomplished," Meyer said. "There's no money put aside for extra training for teachers. Therefore, I think it's going to be haphazardly introduced into different schools. Some will do a lot more. Some will do a lot less. And even though it's common core across the nation, it will not be common core in implementation. That's what I'm thinking -- that they need a better plan for rolling it out and getting trainings for teachers to get it done."