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Nationwide curriculum introduced

By Staff | Jun 5, 2010

A national curriculum initiative unveiled earlier this week could ensure that millions of students are all learning key concepts at the same time.
The new standards were released in Suwanee, Ga., on Wednesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association, but have been in the works for over a year.

Kentucky, Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin have already adopted the common curriculum, according to the Associated Press, and officials believe a remaining 40 states will agree to incorporate the standards by the end of this year.
The Common Core Academic Standards initiative outlines what students should learn in each grade. Another major theme of the initiative, drafted by state leaders with input from 10,000 local educators, is preparing students for the workforce or post-secondary education.
Lee County Superintendent James Browder said he applauds the national discussion on common curriculums, but said the county has already standardized its own textbooks, lessons and materials.
“If educators from various parts of the country want to see how a standardized curriculum benefits children, they need look no further than Lee County Public Schools,” said Browder in a prepared statement.
The student mobility rate in Lee County is 40 percent. Therefore, the nearly half of all students moving to other schools are using materials identical to their last school.
“We realized long ago the value of having the same books, lessons and materials for each grade level in each school — it’s just better for children,” said Browder.
Lee County School Board Member Robert Chilmonik also supports an initiative to have national standards.
“You have to have a way of measuring your performance against other states and education systems,” he said. “The one piece we always have to be aware of is that teachers have to have some flexibility in what they are teaching, because things happen in the classroom.”
Aaron Smoly, an English and journalism teacher at Cape Coral High, said standardizing makes sense for core classes, such as Social Studies, Mathematics, Science or English. Smoly currently sits on a committee working to standardize digital design electives in Lee County.
“I think it makes sense, as long as they can find a proper way of implementing it,” he said. “Teachers and legislators have to work together to make that work.”
Broad changes to curriculum have been made in the past by legislators and high-level administrators, he said, without any input from teachers. He added that the idea behind standardizing curriculum is sound, but it has to be done the right way.
“As far as English classes, it should be standardized across the country,” he said, adding that even with identical subject-area content, “Every teacher might present it differently.”
He said a student reading Huckleberry Finn in New Jersey, for example, should be able to move to Cape Coral and pick up right where he or she left off. Furthermore, high schools in Lee County offer dozens of electives for students who want to further individualize their education.
Dr. Steve Maxwell teaches American government at Cape Coral High. He said the Lee County School District has been ahead of the curve in standardizing its own curriculum.
“I see this as a move in the right direction, in that, it will finally provide cooperative connections amongst educational curricula across the country,” he said. “Hopefully, this isn’t cloaked as being a political agenda for Race to the Top, I don’t endorse political agendas in education.”
One concern Maxwell has about the standardization of curriculum, is that educators don’t diminish or dilute academic excellence or freedom in modes of instruction, he said.
One sticking point for school districts is the possibility that federal Title I funds may be linked to adopting these new standards.
The National School Boards Association released a statement supporting the common core standards, but cautioned against mandates in exchange for funds.
“While the NSBA, through its delegate assembly, has supported the concept of common core academic standards, it’s also our belief that they should be voluntary by the states and not mandated as a condition for receiving federal education program funds,” said Michael Resnick, associate executive director for Advocacy and Issues Management.
The federal government is supporting the initiative, but had no role in drafting the standards.
Lee County and the state of Florida are currently chasing down $700 million in federal funds under the Race to the Top grant competition, a program designed by the Obama administration also asking states to reform their curriculums.