Chippewa Valley, L'Anse Creuse Schools, Others Implementing Common Core Initiative

Michigan and 45 states across the country brace themselves for rigorous curriculum requirements for K-12 classrooms.

In preparation for sweeping changes to school curriculum, Macomb Township's teachers are among those working to modify lesson plans so that they are in step with new academic standards approved statewide.

For instance, most ninth-graders, who might normally take Algebra, will take a new course called Secondary Mathematics 1, or an honors version of that course, which will include concepts in algebra, geometry, statistics, and pre-calculus. Language arts, meanwhile, will also be heavily revised to include more complex reading, and more emphasis on persuasive writing.

These changes and more are slowly being rolled out in school districts around Michigan to comply with the Common Core initiative adopted by the Michigan Department of Education in 2010.

But they may come as a big surprise to some parents.

In an informal survey of school districts that reside in Patch towns in southeast Michigan, there appears to be no formal or consistent strategy for how and when parents will be told of the changes.

L'Anse Creuse Public Schools is relying on teachers, parent advisory committees and school newsletters to explain the changes and help parents understand expectations.

"As we start to slowly make that switch, we've started to talk to parents," said Lisa McFee, LCPS director for curriculum and instruction. "The ISD (intermediate school district) has put out interesting information, and teachers are talking to parents at conferences to start to get them to understand."

Others say there is little urgency since students actually won't be tested on the changes for a few years.

"When we get more specifics, we'll be communicating the changes and expectations to the parents in the district," responded Heidi Kast, assitant superintendent of curriculum instruction and assessment for Lake Orion Community Schools.

And in Chippewa Valley Schools, officials said right now they are focusing on educating teachers and will explain changes to parents as the deadline gets closer, using newsletters, mailings and information on its cable channel.

Changes underway

Students will be tested on the new standards in 2014-15, though in most cases, the transition should take place in 2011-12, with full implementation the following year, according to the FAQ from the MDE.

The goal of Common Core is to bring uniform curriculum to K-12 classrooms throughout the United States in an attempt to align the country's educational expectations. That means students in Clawson, for instance, will be expected to know the exact same information as students in Queens, where teachers have already implemented Common Core. Educators also expect the changes will ensure students are better prepared for college with fewer needing remediation.

"The common core does focus more on the bigger picture–i.e. global outlook, critical thinking, higher level skills–rather than bits and pieces, and if all goes as planned and we follow the national movement toward that kind of testing, we’ll have a really nice correlation to what is being taught in the classroom and what’s being tested in global society," McFee said.

Some school districts, like Chippewa Valley Schools and Utica Community Schools have already begun project planning with teacher-led curriculum councils. 

And a group in Oakland County is taking on the task as a team.

Twenty-four faculty members at Birmingham Public Schools work diligently each month to review and change district curriculum. They are part of a pilot program and are working alongside representatives from Oakland County's 28 school districts in preparation for the Common Core.

"Right now, all the districts in Oakland County are working together ... to develop units of study," said Catherine Cost, assistant superintendent of instructional services at Farmington Public Schools. "Our teachers will bring back information to share with others in the district."

This year teachers focused on number skills by developing units that enhance students' knowledge of place value, transformations (how to manipulate the shape of a line) and other areas that were targeted by Oakland's math curriculum team.

RJ Webber, assistant superintendent at Novi Community Schools, said curriculum collaboration is one of the benefits of moving to the Common Core.

"It really expands the amount of collaboration that can occur not only across a district but across the country about what lessons are really working and what things can get there," he said. "The concern that I would have is the preparation, the testing and the assessment. We're in a very high-stake testing situation right now in our country, and my concern is are these results for the Common Core and their first few iterations going to have high stakes impact and implications? If I was a teacher right now I would be concerned about that."

While the initiative requires districts to re-evaluate how they are teaching, school officials say the plan mirrors their expectation for student success.

But Common Core does have its critics. A writer at the Goldwater Institute, a public policy agency, said the initiative likely won't prepare students to compete in a global economy and hasn't proven that it will help prepare students for selective colleges. And a writer at Politco agrees there is no evidence that Common Core will achieve its goals of boosting national competitveness.

What will it cost?

Local officials are saying they don’t anticipate any extra dollars to assist with the transition. Though many districts are juggling the numbers on technology upgrades and professional development.

In White Lake, Huron Valley Schools Director of Instruction David Maile said moving to a computer-based assessment could take hundreds of thousands of dollars. And he’s concerned the schools aren’t in a financial era with resources to do it. But regardless of the cost, people have the right idea with Common Core, Maile said.

While both Chippewa and L'Anse Creuse have recently , a big concern is the cost of teacher training.

"One of the costs will be in providing professional development, which is one of the things we do," said Ron Roberts, superintendent of Chippewa Valley Schools. "So much of it involves training. Training people to train other people. We use grant funds, so we have to reallocate grant funds, but we also have to allocate district funds. It’s a big project." 

Getting parents and students on board

Stephen Palmer, assistant superintendent for instruction at Birmingham Public Schools, said he believes as the state prepares for the common core changes, there is going to be a “wake up” call for parents and students.

“It’s going to create a lot of angst and anxiety among a lot of people,” Palmer said. “More rigorous standards for underperforming schools will be tough to handle, but it’s an opportunity to change practices and focus on a few skills more deeply. I think for some, it will affect districts dramatically and the state of public education in Michigan will be questioned once again.”

Patch.com Regional Editor Teresa Mask contributed to this report. Macomb Patch Editor Jenny Whalen also contributed to this report.

Jenny Whalen (Editor) December 20, 2011 at 01:42 PM
Do you think this move toward a standardized national curriculum (where every student in every state learns the same thing at the same time) is best?
Sheila Dettloff December 20, 2011 at 05:56 PM
The proliferation (and popularity) of international baccalaureate schools seems to support the idea of standardized educational goals on a wider basis than just throughout the state. And the point that the Novi asst. superintendent makes about collaboration is a good one. Just from the information given here, it sounds positive to me. I think my main concern would be whether the teachers will be prepared for the change.
Jenny Whalen (Editor) December 20, 2011 at 09:10 PM
You bring up a great point about the IB schools. In high school, I saw a lot of exchange students take classes one or two grades above those taken by American students their age. The reason? The pace of study was that different between their country's education system and ours. A little compatibility would make foreign study easier/more attractive for sure.


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