Senator Berta Gardner

January 15, 2014

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

716 W. 4th Ave. Suite 340
Anchorage AK, 99501
Phone: 907-269-0174
Fax: 907-269-0177
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What is Common Core and Why Should We Care?

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner on the Executive Exchange Program with Stellar Principal Dale Evern and Rogers Park Principal Denise Demetree
          I think many Alaskans are wondering about the Common Core Standards.  What are they?  Why is there so much controversy about Common Core?  What does it all mean for Alaska?  Last week the Senate Education committee held a two day hearing to answer these questions and many others.  Here are some of the questions I had when I first started learning about the Common Core or questions that others have asked me.

What is the Common Core?

          In an effort to improve education outcomes for all US students, 28 states embarked on a shared effort to create a new set of academic standards in the fields of language arts and mathematics.  Currently adopted by 45 states, the finished standards are a set of expectations or goals for all students at different points of time in their school careers.

          Here are the Common Core Standards:

Has Alaska adopted the Common Core?  Yes, and no....

          The Anchorage School District has adopted the Common Core and is in the process of developing curriculum and training teachers to implement the new standards.  The State of Alaska, however, for reasons I don’t fully understand, has decided against officially doing the same.  Instead Alaska has adopted the “Alaska Academic Standards”, which for all intents and purposes is clearly the Common Core with some minor tweaks.  This allows the Administration to insist that we are not a Common Core state while concurrently expressing comfort with using Common Core assessments to measure progress for all Alaskan students. It was interesting to watch officials attempt to explain how our standards are different even though progress is to be measured by the same exams.  See if you can find any meaningful differences.

          When our students leave one schools and go to another, or leave the state entirely and go to another, it will be to their benefit to enter the new education environment with the same grade level expectations and standards.

Why should we participate in a new educational program demanded by the federal government?

          Common Core is very clearly not a federal program.  It is truly an idea that originated with the membership of the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization to which every state belongs. That is, Common Core has been a state-run effort from the beginning, with states leading the charge for this reform.  The Common Core effort has had no federal funding, and while the federal government is interested in the work, the states have not been threatened nor coerced to participate or to adopt the standards.

What are the objections to the Common Core/Alaska Academic Standards?

          Some objections and claims I've heard are clearly wrong. These include:

  • The Common Core is controlled by outsiders for their own purposes.
  • It teaches values that oppose our constitution.
  • It promotes pornography.
  • It requires children to provide personal identifying information.
  • It requires an expensive curriculum

          I invite you to check out the links to both Common Core and Alaska Academic Standards and decide for yourselves.  While surely there can be improvements made, (as with any large project) it is clear to me that this is a state-motivated, grassroots effort to improve educational outcomes for all students, with no ulterior or evil motive.  The standards are not a curriculum and do not teach values or religion.  Any teacher, school or district or state can design lessons and select curriculum as they deem appropriate.  

          There are some legitimate concerns about new standards, specifically in the area of assessments.  Just as it makes no sense for us to design standards by ourselves for children who will study, live and work in many parts of the state, the country and the world, it would also be foolish to try design appropriate assessments all by ourselves.  (Remember how our High School Graduation Qualifying Exam went?) I will watch the process with interest, ask questions about costs, data security and ownership etc, but with confidence that the professionals in the field; districts, universities, researchers, PTAs, Labor and Education departments etc are working to ensure that our children’s academic progress is properly evaluated.

          Other testimony suggested that the standards are not strong enough, particularly for our students to compete for highly selective universities and in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  While I certainly hope it is true that some of our students will strive to do just that, we must also bear in mind that these new standards will apply to students, including many who will go into trades, business, industry and who may not want to continue to higher education.  The standards are the baseline, the floor of our expectations, certainly not the ceiling.

          Here is an interesting analysis of the ongoing national discussion:

          In closing, I’d like to say that Representative Josephson, Representative Drummond and I have visited every school in our district, and several in adjoining neighborhoods, including alternative schools.  We had no agenda except to check in with open-ended visits, see the buildings, visit classrooms and talk with anyone who wanted to talk with us.  We met with administrators, parents, teachers and students.  We saw wonderful work, met many dedicated (and worried) teachers, and enjoyed watching focused, engaged students of all ages.  There is lots of great work going on in our district, with new programs and old, with a commitment to career training as well as academics and an effort to focus on the whole child.  Education for all students has been and remains a core passion for each one of us.  

          We have no doubt that the coming session will bring battles about different aspects of education.  As your delegation, we will do everything we can to support the rights of all children to have a high quality education. 

          If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.

          I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

signed: Berta

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