When his now-fourth-grader grows up, Joseph Bashaw wants her to be able to look at a store shelf and automatically know that seven boxes of a product at $5 each equals $35 – he doesn’t want her to have to pull out a pencil and pad to draw diagrams to come to this conclusion.
“I’m wondering what happened to the common sense in this district,” he said as he addressed the Depew Board of Education this week. “It’s not working.”
He was referring to the rigorous curriculum of the Common Core Learning Standards, the evidence-based guidelines aligned from grade to grade in order to link lessons from preschool to senior year to prepare students to enter college and the workforce. New York adopted the curriculum in English Language Arts and math in 2011, joining 45 other states and the District of Columbia. As a result of the new standards, students are expected to perform two years beyond their grade level.
Cayuga Heights Principal Michelle Kudla explained that students are required to think more deeply in all subject areas. To illustrate this, she highlighted a math problem that fifth-graders are asked to solve where instead of simply multiplying fractions to find the answer, they are required to present a multi-phase approach that includes drawing graphs of the two fractions and finding where they intersect.
To applause from the audience, several parents expressed frustrations over the modules being used to teach to the new standards, arguing they are too advanced and unfair to those who did not start learning the new methods in kindergarten.
While district officials countered that help is available through the state Education Department’s website at engageNY.org, one parent held out a single “module,” which contained more than a ream of paper.
When board member Patrick Law asked presenters if those in kindergarten will eventually grow with the modules or if it’s going to be a “train wreck,” Kudla replied that officials are seeing progress in the early grades. Other teachers, however, were shaking their heads no.
To address the concerns, the board agreed to send a letter to state legislators outlining a five-point plan to better control the burden that the Common Core has put on districts like Depew. The plan calls for instituting a statewide campaign to build understanding and support for the importance of the Common Core, investing in ongoing professional development to implement the standards, ensuring adequate funding, addressing parents’ and educators’ concerns over excessive testing and establishing an ongoing process for engaging key stakeholders in reviewing and refining implementation.