Amid controversy, Common Core shows promise [Editorial]

Odds are, if it wasn't for the arrest of Ellicott City's Robert Small at a state hearing in Towson on the Common Core, the new standards wouldn't be getting the attention they are. But since nothing draws attention more than a video that goes viral, Small's arrest after verbally challenging officials at the meeting and the subsequent dropping of charges put the Common Core front and center.

Small's arrest, as we pointed out at the time, was unnecessary. Worse, his arrest fueled mistrust in the Common Core, a feeling likely caused by a lack of communication and understanding of the noble goals of the new curriculum.

For the record, the Common Core, a set of standards adopted in 2010 by 45 states, is supposed to ensure that students across the country have common academic goals. The idea of the Common Core is for students to become more engaged in their education through hands-on learning and less upon teachers lecturing students. States received federal Race to the Top grants as incentive to join, with Maryland's take at $250 million.

Misunderstanding of the Common Core's premise aside, the most disturbing part in this discussion has been how unprepared many jurisdictions have been to implement the new curriculum. Last week, Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance apologized to teachers and administrators for the problems associated with the implementation. In Howard County, the school system is further along than most, having started to implement the new standards a few years ago.

Yet administrators and teachers still don't think it has been enough time. School board members have complained that the curriculum is "half-baked" and that the Common Core instruction isn't aligned with assessments, making standardized testing "awkward" during the continuing transition to the Common Core in the classroom. In fact, the misalignment of classroom instruction and standardized testing was blamed specifically for some declining math scores when state assessment numbers were released last summer.

Clearly, the Common Core has a number of hurdles to navigate. At the same time, though, school board members are expressing optimism that, in time, the change will be a good thing. Let's hope they are correct and that a lack of preparation won't prove a stumbling block.

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