Common Core, a controversial newly adopted set of education standards nationwide, has become a major concern of educators, school administrators and parents in Harford County and across Maryland.
One state delegate from Harford hopes to stop the program in its tracks, and one of the leaders of the county Board of Education said recently the county should assert control over Common Core and other mandates from the Annapolis and Washington, even to the point of refusing to implement them.
The Common Core State Standards, adopted by the Maryland State Board of Education in 2010, are a set of academic goals in English language arts, mathematics and technology to create consistent educational standards for all students.
States across the country have been independently setting their own Common Core Standards. While the program is not a specific mandate from the federal government, Common Core standards are viewed by state leaders and educators as an extension of the 2001 Federal No Child Left Behind Act and its 2009 successor Race to the Top, federal mandates for minimum performance goals for local school systems.
Common Core and a new assessment test that goes with it are slated to be fully implemented in the county public school system, and school districts across Maryland, by the 2014-15 school year, according to school officials.
According to state education officials, the goal of Common Core is to prepare students for the workforce and to earn two-year and four-year degrees in the global economy.
Among critics, concerns with Common Core among Harford parents range from too much control of their children's education from afar to excessive administrative costs that take away scarce financial resources at a time when the local public school system has been enmeshed in a several-year battle with county government officials about funding.
Teachers likewise have raised red flags about Common Core, among them that they are being forced to use an unproven, one-size-fits-all curriculum that will unfairly judge their own performance in the classroom. Other teachers say the concept is good, but add the caveat that it has to be adequately funded.
Supervisors and principals responsible for seeing the program is followed, say Common Core will provide students with instruction more relevant to what they will experience after they leave school. Going back decades, however, similar claims have been made for other supposedly new and improved curriculum development programs.
For students, Common Core is the latest buzzword among their teachers. What does it mean? Depends on who is doing the explaining.
'Vital to success'
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, Common Core focuses on 21st century skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity "that are vital to success in college and the workplace."
Sarah Morris, supervisor of math for Harford County Public Schools, said under the Common Core standards there will be greater emphasis on using writing to explain math concepts and problem solving based on prior knowledge.
"Students will work in groups and see what they already know to solve a problem," Morris said. "Math is not always a step-by-step process. There will be more opportunity to think about what you already know and apply it to a problem."
Morris said Common Core will also push for an appreciation of math.
"It is a culturally acceptable thing not to like mathematics," Morris said. "We're pushing a more positive attitude."
Morris said students will learn that math rules their every day lives, like setting the table and figuring out the one-to-one ratio of plates, forks, cups and spoons.
In language arts and English, Kris Scarry, county schools supervisor of language arts, said students will learn how to synthesize ideas across text and evaluate common threads. She said students will be encouraged to form an opinion about a topic.
"There will also be more emphasis in listening and speaking and the importance of oral language," Scary said. "Students will learn how to listen to their peers when they answer questions and directly respond to their comments."
Common Core emphasizes college and career readiness, Morris said. She said the curriculum is "backward mapped" with the expectation to look at each grade level and determine what a child needs to learn to be ready by the time they graduate.