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Parents and teachers speak out on new Common Core standards


October 25, 2013
This school year will see the transition to the Common Core State Standards in the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District (VCPUSD), and parents and educators are already discussing the merits of the new system.

At the well-attended meeting of the school board on Oct. 17, both supporters and opponents of the new standards stood up to give their opinion. Common Core has already been adopted by 45 states, but it is still a young program and many are unsure what to expect from the curriculum.

Backers of Common Core claim it will result in more flexibility for teachers and will challenge students to solve complex problems, but many parents are wary it will mean unnecessary federal overreach into education and more "teaching to the test."

Trina West, a parent of two VCHS students and outspoken critic of Common Core, implored the school board to reconsider the move.

"The education system as we know it is being manipulated by theory that is not backed by empirical data and has not been field tested," she said. "National standards will lead to a national curriculum, and control over education will transfer from the hands of parents and local school boards to the U.S. Department of Education and a set of unelected boards, bureaucrats, and private interests."

Several parents shared West's concerns, but the two teachers who spoke at the meeting spoke favorably of the standards. Lee Thor, a math teacher at VCHS, felt Common Core was an improvement to the curriculum.

"With Common Core, we're starting to go back to balancing the procedural fluency, the ability to do the math, with the understanding of all the math," said Thor. "That's the part I think has been missing from math ever since I started teaching it here, and I've been here 10 to 12 years. There's been this emphasis on the procedural to the exclusion of the understanding part. What I see in Common Core is trying to balance that better."

"New things aren't always bad," said Linda Saffiote, VCHS English Teacher. "I've been teaching for 23 years and I've seen many new things come. Teachers will still teach, that's what they do. The government is not telling us what to teach."

One of the most common concerns at the meeting was a lack of communication and transparency about what the new standards will mean.

"It seems to me it's unproven," said Shelby Busham, parent of three VCPUSD students. Jay West, Trina's husband, had similar concerns.

"I haven't seen any signs that say 'Hey, the school district is transitioning to Common Core,' which is probably the biggest evolution going on right now," said West. "More important than anything else I can think of, changing the entire academic curriculum of the school district."

Despite the misgivings of some, the state of California has adopted the standards and the district has little choice but to follow suit. Jay West suggested that it is not necessarily mandatory, but if Valley Center-Pauma were to break from the rest of the state they would likely suffer in the standardized assessment tests.

"I think we're already committed to the Common Core," said Lou Obermeyer, superintendent. "We have to keep in mind that our students are going to be taking the Smarter Balanced assessments." Smarter Balanced will be replacing the traditional CST assessments, and the new assessments are closely aligned with the Common Core curriculum.

Several parents, as well as board member Michael Robledo, called for the district to host an informal meeting to share more information about Common Core.

"We're happy to schedule that," said Obermeyer.

In response to concerns raised at the meeting, the school district has scheduled two information meetings on Common Core for next week. The first will be held on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Valley Center Middle School, and the second will be on Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. in the Valley Center Elementary multipurpose room.

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