Public education is a curious beast. To a degree it is established for local control — the local school district structure — but at least in contemporary times it also must respond to both state and federal dictates.
Over the past decade or so local districts have adjusted curriculum to comply with state standardized testing (WASL and now MSP) and the federal No Child Left Behind act.
The latest movement is toward complying with federal Common Core Standards. All these efforts have similar goals — to identify subjects and skills students need to master and to evaluate whether students reach those goals.
For the most part these various edicts have come without sufficient funding — there is some grant money available through the Educational Service District 105 to assist districts in implementing the Common Core Standards.
People agree on the need to effectively teach and evaluate students on core subjects. After that, the consensus tends to split. There is opposition to the Common Core Standards. There was opposition to No Child Left Behind. There was so much opposition to WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) that it was changed to MSP (measurements of student progress).
Sometimes the debate fractures along lines of political ideology, but is important to note that over the years these efforts have been spearheaded by Democrats and Republicans, and opposition has crossed party lines as well.
These may be high-level changes but they have local impact. The Ellensburg School District has extended its number of half days for the coming school year to 19 days to provide the time needed for teacher training to implement the standards.
Ellensburg school officials are cognizant of the loss of classroom time but indicate there is no other option.
The Cle Elum-Roslyn School District schedules early release every Friday and will be dedicating some of that time to the core standards.
A lot of work
Whether the district is allocating classroom time for teacher training or not, the bottom line is implementing the standards will take considerable work.
From the parents’ standpoint, especially those who have seen multiple waves of curriculum reform, the concern is when is that near constant revision going to stop? Curriculum needs to adjust to remain contemporary but teachers deserve the chance to reduce amount of time spent reacting to changes and focus on teaching the curriculum.
We ask a lot of teachers and at some point we just have to say, “We’re going to leave you alone for awhile. Do your best.”
It is hard, if not impossible, to evaluate curriculum changes in a short period of time. At the end of school day it still comes down to parents and guardians keeping track of what their child is doing in school, communicating with the teacher to make sure the child remains on track and coming up with strategies to ensure success.
That means while teachers and district personnel invest time in becoming versed in the Common Core Standards, so must parents and guardians.
Eventually we are going to have to trust teachers to teach and parents to track progress and emphasize education in the home. In that respect, education remains locally driven and controlled.