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Posted: 03/05/14

Last Wednesday's community forum to discuss the new Common Core State Standards drew about 80 people. The new standards are due to take effect during the 2014-15 school year.

(Observer photo by Jerry Fraeyman)

Both sides of represented
at Common Core forum

Observer Special Writer
      A community forum to discuss new statewide education standards that go into place this fall drew 80 people and elicited a wide range of public feedback.
       Romeo Community Schools Superintendent Nancy Campbell and Asst. Superintendent Eric Whitney hosted the three-hour session, held Feb. 26.
       Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is an initiative that seeks to establish consistent K-12 learning standards across the states and prepare students for post high school opportunities. The standards become effective with the 2014-15 school year.
       Proponents of Common Core say it creates clear, unified expectations that develop critical thinking skills to better prepare students for college and employment.
       Opponents worry about loss of local control, hidden agendas, and that Common Core is an unproven approach.
       Campbell and Whitney were joined by Macomb Intermediate School District consultants Lisa Rivard and MaryAnn Srock. Srock is a former Romeo math teacher.
       The question-and-answer session generated a fair amount of dialogue.
       Elaine Hansemann of Washington Township is concerned about underlying motives.
       "I'm worried what's behind all this," Hansemann said. "Romeo won't really have the control. And now the federal government is telling you this is what you have to do to get money. Every district needs money. I think part of this is a money grab."
       According to Whitney, Common Core is not a federal mandate. It was created by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
       States choose to voluntarily implement the program. Forty-five states have done so.
       Michigan voted in June 2010 to adopt CCSS. Full implementation starts in September 2014 for math and language arts.
       States that implement the program can become eligible for Race to the Top and other types of funding, similar to those under existing education achievement programs.
       Hansemann has a senior at RHS.
       "We are very happy with our Romeo education. Why, all of a sudden, do we have to change to this?" she asked.
       Campbell said the standards are in response to nationwide feedback that today's high school graduates lack necessary skills.
       "The educational community keeps hearing from employers and colleges that they do too much remedial work with high school graduates," Campbell explained.
       Chris Candela, parent of a first- and fifth-grader, said he was concerned with "pretty much everything" about Common Core. Most acutely, he fears an emphasis on group activity and grading.
       "I'm a rugged individualist and they are forcing this herd mentality and throwing everybody into groups," he said.
       Whitney said that was an unfounded fear. Under the standards, students are graded individually.
       Resident Debra Studebaker liked what she heard.
       "I appreciate that the math approach gives consideration to other learning styles. The examples shown tonight demonstrate other ways to learn the concepts," she said.
       Studebaker isn't worried about group think.
       "In the real world, a lot of work takes place in groups," she says. "That's how life is."
       Amy Trudeau, a Washington Elementary parent, feels likewise.
       "I think the Common Core standards are awesome. I love the critical thinking skills," she said.
       RCS Board Member Sara Murray questioned the motives of organizations, such as the Gates Foundation, that back Common Core. She pledged to continue investigating the topic.
       A few audience members cited news reports that the New York State Teachers Union might pull its support for Common Core. Others expressed concern the initiative might compromise Romeo's standards.
       "The standards are an improvement over what we've had before," Whitney said. "They are more rigorous, more focused, more coherent. Common Core might not be the silver bullet, but it's not as bad as some make it out to be."
       Campbell said Romeo has been piloting Common Core the past three years, something Trudeau has noticed.
       "A lot of what I saw in the presentation tonight is what I have been seeing my daughter bring home from school," she said. "I like it."
       For some, the forum didn't provide absolute clarity.
       Mike Budzik, parent of a Hamilton-Parsons kindergartner, was one of the last to leave.
       "I'm very much in the middle," he said. "I'm still on the fence."
       Regardless of their views on CCSS, attendees were appreciative of the forum.
       "One thing I love about Romeo is that they keep the community informed," said Rachel Eichhorst, a former Utica teacher and Romeo parent. "Not every district does that."

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