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Common Core isn't ready for prime time

9:56 AM EDT, October 1, 2013

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I am concerned by the way the Baltimore County schools are implementing the new Core Curriculum ("Charges dropped against Maryland parent who spoke against Common Core standards," Sept. 23).

Having retired after teaching mathematics in the county for 36 years, I know how the job of putting a new curriculum in place was handled in the past. Curriculum workshops were held in the summer. Teachers, department chairs and subject area supervisors worked to publish a workable guide for teachers. We had these guides in our hands, with all the necessary plans and guidelines to help us turn out solid lessons for our students.

From my conversations with friends in the classroom, I don't think this is the case anymore. Teachers are being referred to the Internet for some pages, to old curriculum guides for others. For still other objectives, there are no references at all. It's a mess that has teachers frustrated and demoralized. I recently heard the sentiment expressed that we are "building this plane in flight." Parents of Baltimore County, is that a plane on which you want your children to fly?

Recently at a town hall style meeting, a parent was arrested for trying to ask a question regarding Common Core and its implementation. Questions had to be submitted in writing, which this particular parent hadn't done. Requiring that questions be submitted in advance may speed up the proceedings and allow for more questions to be answered, but it also allows those answering the questions to pick and choose those that they want to answer.

Were all questions submitted that evening answered by the panel, or did they decide not to answer some of them? Who chose which questions to answer? Were questions edited? Were questions made up by the panel members themselves? When restrictions such as these are put on the questions asked, one can't help but be somewhat skeptical.

Why wasn't this meeting held a year ago, not now, when teachers are working hard in their classrooms attempting to implement a new curriculum with very little help? It sounds to me like we aren't ready for what's supposed to be happening in our classrooms. Wouldn't it be better to slow down, pay qualified people to sit down and write curriculum, then train the people on the front lines to use it effectively? In other words, maybe we should have built the plane before we took off.

Superintendent Dallas Dance came to us at a very young age for such a position, and with little experience in the classroom. A state required minimum of just three years of teaching experience had to be waived in order to hire him.

There are those who would say that experience in the classroom doesn't necessarily help one run a large school system from a post far removed from the children themselves. Certainly there are administrative and political skills that are necessary to effectively serve as a school superintendent, but I wonder if Mr. Dance fully understands what it takes to be successful where it matters most — in a classroom full of students.

I don't know if he taught long enough to learn that a lack of air conditioning isn't the only thing that causes a teacher to sweat during the presentation of a lesson to a group of kids who may or may not want to be there.

Whatever the reason, I don't believe that our teachers were placed in the best possible position to succeed or to make our students successful. I know that they will work very hard to somehow make it all work. Those in charge are counting on it.

Tony DiStefano, Towson