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Belair Explains National Change to Waterford Schools

Waterford Superintendent Jerome Belair and Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers explain a new set of “Common Core Standards” that must be adopted by all public schools by the 2013-14 school year, including Waterford.

Monday, Waterford Public Schools' two highest-ranking administrators gave a presentation on the new "Common Core Standards" that will shape the curriculums of all American public schools in the near future - including Waterfords'.

The federal government is mandating all school districts in the country adopt their curriculums to meet standards by the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Jerome Belair and Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said. Belair said Waterford has already begun this transition, and he praised the national movement.

“The biggest difference is now this is an international benchmark, it is going to be aligned with what all the other countries are testing,” Belair said. “I think it is a real positive.”

The Board of Education had both praise and concerns for the federal initiative. Several members praised parts of the program, although board member Tim Egan questioned if it was idealistic, and if getting every student to hit those standards is really possible.

“I believe it is a great new focus,” Egan said. “But it presupposes that we have a very engaged, self-reliant student.”

Explaining the Common Core

The federal government is mandating that all public school districts in the country adopt the common core standards by the 2013-14 school year. The idea of the common core is to cover less topics than what schools traditionally covered before, but to go into further detail on those select topics, Belair explained.

“It is about narrowing the focus and drilling deeper,” he said. “So the students walk away with a very solid conceptual understanding of the material.”

States will give federally-approved standardized tests, instead of creating their own tests as they do now, Powers explained. Those tests will allow Waterford to be able to compare itself to not just other districts in the state, but other districts in the country and even in other countries, Powers said.

“We will be able to have a broader perspective than ever before,” he said.

The idea of the common core is to make all students – with an emphasis on all – be college and career ready when they graduate high school, Belair said. By having a national tests and national standards, it will allow for more centralization of dollars and resources and therefore more dollars and resources, he said.

There were several specifics the two men highlighted about the new program. They were:

  • There will be a greater focus on non-fiction reading in schools, even in the elementary schools. The idea is a 50/50 split of non-fiction reading to fiction reading in elementary schools, 55-45 split of non-fiction to fiction in middle school and a 70-30 split of non-fiction to fiction in the high school.
  • Before, writing was taught in stages as students’ age: first they learned narrative writing, then writing to inform and explain, then persuasive. Now, students will learn all three together, with a gradual focus away from narrative and more to persuasive and writing to inform and explain.
  • A focus on literacy will be extended to all subjects, including subjects like math and science. The idea is that reading, writing, speaking, listening and language will be a shared responsibility by all subjects.
  • In math, there are steps students should hit by each grade level. Also, there will be more of a focus on real-life applications.
  • All standardized tests will be taken online. Instead of giving a test to 10th graders, like Connecticut schools do now with the CAPT test, 11th graders will be tested.

Board’s Take

Several Board of Education members praised the new standards, although some did raise some concerns. Board member John Taglianetti asked if there was data to prove that this new focus will make students more prepared after graduation and if school districts will have much flexibility under the federal system.

Belair answered that the common core standards were developed with research from employers on what they wanted in students. He said there is flexibility in that there are no universal curriculums or texts that must be used by all districts.

Egan, who is a teacher, said he liked the standards but questioned the practicality of them. He asked if this sudden shift would be hard on older students. He also said the standards assume an independent student who is willing to do work outside the classroom, and that isn’t always the case.

Belair said Waterford has adopted new intervention programs to help the students Egan was referring too. He also said that if schools don’t fix those problems, they will not be fixed.

“If (schools) aren’t doing it, who will do it?” Belair said. “As a country, we need to step up to the plate on this.”

Concerned Parent October 24, 2012 at 10:37 AM
Thanks for the heads up. I didn't learn about this until my kids went from the honor roll to receiving F's. Well done; thanks!
Waterford Guy October 24, 2012 at 11:54 AM
The Department of Education has been an abysmal failure since its creation, who not adopt some "national" standards set by them? Thus continues our downward spiral. "Education, without values, only seems to make a more clever devil" -C.S. Lewis-
Hope T October 24, 2012 at 12:03 PM
We obviously don't know enough here to form an opinion, but I am concerned with the intent to narrow the learning field to address what a section of employers indicate they are looking for. We may end up with a handful of students who excel in math and science, but have no inkling of this country's history, what is to be learned from the past, how to create a thought or how to express themselves. Seems the plan involves a lot of skipped steps aimed at students who are attractive to certain employers (secondary schooling objective?) but really weak as contributing, informed citizens as adults. Age of droids.
Concerned Parent October 24, 2012 at 12:25 PM
With respect, I am confident that I do have enough information to form an opinion. My kids have been on the honor roll since they started middle school at Clark Lane. The are now in high school. We had to struggle through the absolutely horrible Connected Mathematics program. The Connected Mathematics textbooks were so inadequate, the math teacher recommended another book that we needed to purchase to make sense of the textbook. I had no problem in college with math, but the Connected Mathematics textbooks were useless. Now when we suddenly switch to the national standards, which I'm sure is a great idea and makes sense, the students are totally unprepared. Waterford public schools should have taken greater efforts to inform parents of the change at the end of last year. Perhaps they could have sent home information on what would be expected under the new program and when the switch would be implemented. We only learned of the change when suddenly our kids started receiving F's on their quiz and test scores. My kids are not alone with this and I'm sure other parents will respond here shortly. Many parents have had to hire tutors and we will most likely have to as well. This is an abysmal failure on the part of the Waterford public school system to prepare students for this change. My oldest son is a Junior. As you know, a very important year for grades as far as college is concerned. To say the least, I'm very upset.
BJ October 24, 2012 at 12:44 PM
"Education" is a life long process. Our schools are set up for failure; they create standards, then teach to those standards. They teach students WHAT they want them to know (memorization); what they need to be teaching the students is HOW to learn. We keep throwing more money at the schools, and the we keep lowering/changing the standards; yet all we get is pre-programed robots incapable of an original idea and COMPLETELY void of critical thinking skills.
Daniella Ruiz October 24, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Amen!
Daniella Ruiz October 24, 2012 at 01:50 PM
"Line up children, no talking, do as you are told!" that phase reverberates so loud in this "Global Initiative" it makes me shudder. "Stand still, accept your fate, give me all your valuables, you are going for a train ride, get in the boxcar, all 200 of you, a gallon of water is inside for the trip, there's a bucket for your 'needs, and when you arrive the work will make you free'" yeah, that's an extreme appraisal of this "Initiative", as dangerous as it sounds.
Daniella Ruiz October 24, 2012 at 02:24 PM
and sure as shootin', the education business IS stepping up to the plate! and they are filling their belly's fuller each time they come around too!

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