Local school districts defend rigor of Common Core standards

Published On: Dec 24 2013 08:59:22 AM CST   Updated On: Oct 04 2013 09:07:02 PM CDT
Common Core Challenge
TOMAH, WI -

The common core is a set of education standards for K-12 public schools, adopted by Wisconsin in 2010.

The standards apply to math and language arts. Now, some are questioning whether it's a good change for public.

A joint Wisconsin Senate and Assembly education committee held a hearing in Madison on Thursday to look into the common core standards.

Educators from across the state came to be part of it.

One of the concerns is that it's a federal program, taking away local control to determine how kids are taught.

But Wisconsin education officials say the common core was a collaborative effort between education experts in the nation at the request of governors from across the country, not a federally mandated curriculum.

Another major concern is that the standards are not rigorous enough, a suggestion State Superintendent of Education Tony Evers said is ridiculous.

"They are world class. I don't know how else to say it. The standards have been evaluated by academics all over this country that have viewed it as equal to any of the other countries that are scoring high," said Evers.

Conservative tea party members sent a letter to lawmakers earlier this year, asking for an investigation.

While the state superintendent defends the rigor of the new standards, so do some of the local school districts.   

The Onalaska School district started implementing the new standards last year and while there is still plenty of work to be done to make the adjustment, teachers and students are over the major learning curve.

But Tomah is using the new teaching style for math and language arts for the first time this year.

Talk with parents and school officials and you'll quickly learn, these standards are not only challenging, but completely changing how students  learn.

Dawn Schroeder is spending hours trying to help her seventh-grade son Jacob adjust to the new way math is taught to meet common core standards in the Tomah School District.

"We spend a couple hours every night doing math," said Schroeder. "Math has been especially difficult, having to explain our answers which we never had to do before. We have a whole new curriculum we have to adjust to."

Tomah School District Superintendent Cindy Zahrte said teachers are using the new standards for the first time this year.

She said while there's frustration among teachers and students, it's evidence that these standards in math and language arts are an improvement from the old Wisconsin education standards.

"It's a higher level of expectation for our students so it requires teachers to teach differently. It requires us to use different curriculum that we've developed, different teaching resources and so whenever you have a lot of new things coming together like that there's a very high learning curve and it tends to be stressful," said Zahrte.

The Onalaska School District rolled out the standards last year.

Superintendent Dr. Fran Finco said while it was a difficult transition, this year, teachers are much more comfortable with the new teaching style.

"The common core doesn't ask you to give the answer, it asks you to tell them how you know the answer. So it's a higher level. It's not just memorization and regurgitation, it's demonstration," said Finco.

And while Schroeder said in the long run the new standards could be helpful, she worries about students like her son trying to adjust so quickly to a new way of learning.

"I think that being a problem-solver is a good quality to have. How you got to an answer is a good thing to know. I think unfortunately, the downfall of it is it's not in the short term going to be good for their self-esteem," said Schroeder.

Schroeder said Jacob isn't having trouble with the new language arts standards.

She said one of the main reasons math is so difficult is because he's having to instantly change a style of learning he's developed and used for seven years already.

While the common core standards for math and language arts are the same for the entire state, each school district has the freedom to develop their curriculum to achieve those goals however they want to.

Every school district in the state of Wisconsin is required to have common core standards this year.