Common Ground Found On Common Core

Aliyya Swaby PhotoWhen Common Core came to New Haven, Garfield Pilliner told a gathering in Dixwell, his classroom changed.

Both he and his math students were forced outside of their comfort zones, he said. “My instruction had to change. I had to become a reading teacher ... and understand what it meant to find a big idea in a problem.”

Now an assistant principal at Hillhouse’s IDEA Academy, Pilliner was one of several members on a panel Tuesday night who described the ongoing difficulty—as well as the necessity—of implementing Common Core, which began to be phased in to New Haven’s public schools.

Sitting together at a table in Varick AME Zion Church, educators, legislators, and advocates—who sometimes disagree with each other on other occasions—found they had more in common than not, as they discussed the future of the standards.

Director of Booker T. Washington Academy and event moderator John Taylor introduced the panelists: Pilliner, formerly a teacher at Engineering and Science University Magnet School; State Senators Gayle Slossberg and Gary Holder-Winfield; local Board of Education member Che Dawson; Dave Cicarella, president of the teachers union; Imma Canelli, deputy superintendent; and Jennifer Alexander, CEO of charter-advocacy group ConnCAN.

Connecticut is one of 45 states that have agreed to adopt the Common Core, national academic standards that set benchmarks in English and math for students from K to 12—aligned to the standardized Smarter Balanced Field Test. The Achievement First (AF) charter network and New Haven Public School district decided to switch to Common Core two years before the state requirement of 2015.

Canelli explained to the audience of parents and community members that Common Core has “fewer standards” but ones that are “more rigorous and clearer” to prepare students for college and careers. For English, the new standards mean ensuring students read a mix of fiction and nonfiction and get used to analyzing complex passages using textual evidence, she said. Math instruction will focus on the standards, be more coherent across grade levels and increase in rigor, she said.

Common Core pushes “literacy in all content areas, not just language arts,” Canelli said. “What does it look like in art or music?”

For Pilliner (pictured left), it looked like increasing his collaboration with teachers of other subjects, to make sure his students were “well balanced.” Instead of teaching mathematics “discretely,” he asked students to integrate their algebra and geometry knowledge in word problems.

The beginning steps of adjusting to Common Core are tricky for any school, Cicarella and Alexander agreed. But Cicarella said that collaboration between teachers and the district has allowed for a smoother transition than in other districts.

After an early assessment last January, AF CEO Dacia Toll said students were struggling to pass the preliminary Common Core tests, which rely more on conceptual understanding.

Alexander said “huge bumps in the road,” including poor test results, are likely on the way to visible growth in achievement. But she urged the community in advance to accept the results as a “more realistic picture of where we are” instead of “rejecting the whole thing. We will weather the storm if we continue the pace we are at.” Older students will find it more difficult to transition than younger students.

“We’re not saying we ever want to have the scores go down,” Cicarella clarified. But new standards require teachers to be trained and children to get adjusted to a completely new system. “Long-term results will be there. In the short term, we may see that dip.”

Students must use computers to take the new test, unlike the Connecticut Mastery Test, done with pencil and paper. A $2.6M state grant allowed the district to buy 3,000 new computers and install wireless connections in all schools.

Canelli said she was worried students wouldn’t have enough time with the technology by test day. “We don’t want the scores to reflect that it’s taking them too long to type,” instead of an actual knowledge gap, she said.

Dawson said it was the Board of Ed’s responsibility to make sure resources and “proper equipment” were in place as Common Core goes forward.

And Holder-Winfield called on legislators to go back to their communities and educate people on their misconceptions of the new standards. Too many people think Common Core is a new nationally-mandated curriculum or examination, he said.

Panelists fielded questions from several community members, including one Booker T. Washington Academy grandfather who wanted to know how teachers and students were dealing with the transition, how long the overhaul would take, and how parents could get more information.

Canelli said the district will give informational sessions for interested community groups.

Teacher Nadir Abdul-Salaam noted that the more difficult standards would require increased parental involvement in their children’s academics, but that many inner-city students lacked that support. “How do you make sure [those children] stay on pace?”

Holder-Winfield responded that it is “too easy” to give up on parents who don’t seem to get involved in traditional ways. He said his mother never went to his school, but did put pressure on him to academically succeed when he was at home. Teachers and administrators might have more success asking how to change school events to convenience those parents.

“Maybe you might come if we have dinner for your kids with someone watching them,” he said. “The vast majority of parents, I don’t care what community you’re in, care about their kids.”

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posted by: Theodora on January 21, 2015  10:32am

Gary Holder-Winfield often speaks the truth to people who are either grandstanding, looking for white approval or simply unable to break from their narrow perspective to understand another.

Overwhelmingly, parents do care and support their children. I have heard more than enough parent-bashing from teachers.

It is simple - You are being paid to teach students. Your job is to engage them and pass on lessons. If you need excuses to detail why you can not do that, please find another profession.

posted by: Jarhead for justice on January 21, 2015  1:56pm

I find it hard to believe that when the majority of states around the country are actually finding ways to get rid of common core testing in their states, New Haven is actually finding ways to embrace it. This meeting was just another dog and pony show of politicians and local leaders to get their names out in the local news in order to drum up support. What I find the most appalling is that the president of the teachers union is sitting in the meeting and actually embracing common core in the very charter school building he vowed he was against only a few weeks ago. Does he have principles? Someone please educate this dumb reader!

posted by: Iteachem on January 21, 2015  10:04pm

As a teacher, I understand why the Common Core has been embraced by the Board. However, yesterday I spent 25 minutes trying to log my 25 students on the SBAC practice test. We had to deal with slow connections, the kids kept getting thrown off the internet and would have to log back on and begin again. Did I mention many of the computers have a number of the keys ripped off of them? So much wasted time we could use to be teaching our students.
I urge all parents to have a try at the tests their children are subjected to,, there are better ways to evaluate kids. In the meantime, investigate the if you feel standardized testing is wrong for your child.

posted by: Blue on January 21, 2015  10:45pm

Theodora:  Parents and teachers must work together to benefit the child.  Sadly, some of the city’s worst-performing schools have many students at the K and PRIMARY grade levels coming to school without a book bag, homework or a healthy lunch. As concerning, in over 10 years of working at the primary grade level in a few of NH’s toughest schools, attendance at parent conferences was never higher than 42%. This despite advanced notice, repeated offers to hold phone conferences and/or reschedule if parents cannot keep their appointment. We’re talking little kids here! These are important components that teachers cannot control.  People that call such factors excuses are puppets for central office who really know better but won’t state otherwise to protect their $100K-plus jobs.

Jarhead - You are spot on.  I’ll add: When is the last time any of the aforementioned panelists taught in a classroom??!! Decades ago, if at all!! A lot has changed since.

posted by: N.A. SALAAM on January 21, 2015  11:10pm

This is Nadir Salaam and I was misquoted. My comment was that children  from “At risk” backgrounds will fall to the wayside because they lack a stable to ask for parental support. “At risk” is a term used in the education field to describe children that experience many hardship that are adverse to learning.  How you worded my comments make me seem insensitive to the work and sacrifice  majority of parents make which is furthest from the truth. That was not a direct quote so please do not present  it as so.

posted by: N.A. SALAAM on January 21, 2015  11:18pm

@Blue- you are absolutely correct.  How do we make sure At-Risk students do not get overlooked. Its just a reality we as inmer city teaches have to deal with. Common core does not address this issue. They disregard their background and it becomes a dink or swim mentality which has plagued our school systems for as long as we know it.

posted by: Theodora on January 21, 2015  11:49pm

So, there are some parents who don’t do an adequate job. Teachers get the students 7 or 8 hours a day for 180 days a year.

Like I said, if you aren’t up for the job, it is too important to have your ineffective self in the position.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 22, 2015  10:37am

posted by: Theodora on January 21, 2015 10:49pm

So, there are some parents who don’t do an adequate job. Teachers get the students 7 or 8 hours a day for 180 days a year.

Like I said, if you aren’t up for the job, it is too important to have your ineffective self in the position

And this is why we need the Comer School Development Program.

These teacher led curriculum units, that involved students and often parents in the planning, engaged our low-income, socially marginalized students with the kind of experiences that promote executive function and social skills that many mainstream children acquire in their families.

posted by: Theodora on January 21, 2015 9:32am

Gary Holder-Winfield often speaks the truth to people who are either grandstanding, looking for white approval or simply unable to break from their narrow perspective to understand another

I agree.

posted by: N.A. SALAAM on January 22, 2015  5:18pm

@Threefifths I utilize the same philosophy. The writer made it seem as if im placing burden on the parents When I said that children from at risk wont have the needed support available for a Core Knowledge curriculum. The Comer model should be embraced by NHPS.

posted by: loquacious truth on January 22, 2015  8:35pm

Am I the only one wondering why these meetings are taking place in a ” church” with charter school signs in the background? Anyone want to guess how many years until the President of the Teachers Union stops getting invited to the panel? If you think we have income disparity in this country now, wait until the charters and politicians wipe out the last of the teachers unions. By the way, does anyone know what the teachers retention rate is in CT charter schools?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 22, 2015  10:07pm

Read the real deal.

Common Core: The Sixteen Billion Dollar Educational Scam

May 10, 2013 By Karen Schroeder

The Common Core Corporate Scam
Unless we dismantle and defeat this larger effort, Common Core implementation will become another stage in the demise of public education.
By Editorial Staff / Rethinking Schools

July 5, 2013


How Microsoft will make money from Common Core (despite what Bill Gates said)

posted by: Blue on January 23, 2015  12:08am

Theodora:  Teachers in most NH schools do not have their students for 7-8 hours a day for 180 days.

For starters, many schools don’t have a 7-hour day for the students. Here now is a typical primary schedule: 2-hour lit block, 1 hour of math, 1 hour of writing, and (if time permits) maybe 30 minutes for science/social studies—such schedules are created by school admins with the approval from central office. Thus, at best, teachers have their students for 4.5 hours.  Teachers are not with their students for lunch, preparation periods, recess or enrichments (art, music gym, computer, library)—all of which comprises 90 minutes. And that 4.5 hours is generous considering all the times teachers are pulled from instruction for EIP, SRBI, PBIS, Data and conflict resolution meetings. Nor does it count half-days, which count toward the 180, nor student absences and tardy arrivals. Match all of that with classrooms of 24-26 students, many of whom have academic, social or behavioral concerns us paras who often are taken out of class to cover other staff absences —and it makes providing quality instruction more difficult.

Which brings us back to parental involvement. Parents have their children for 19.5-20 hours a day. I get that that time is misleading considering time spent at work and the kid’s sleep time. But parents still have an obligation to get their young kids to school consistently and on time, prepared with basic essentials like book bags to help keep their child organize, prepared for class with homework done, and attend parent conferences.

It’s scary that there are people like you who don’t see the value in parents and teachers working together to benefit the child. Anybody can finger point and portray their opinion as fact despite having neither the experience nor accurate evidence to support their opinion.

posted by: Josiah Brown on January 23, 2015  8:48am

Regarding the complementary efforts of teachers and families, the following might be of interest, in addition to the School Development Program already cited: