Posted: 12:06 a.m. Thursday, June 27, 2013
By Maureen Downey
Pam Williams is an Instructional Support Specialist for Grades 9-12 in Appling County High School in Georgia. In 2011, she was named Georgia Teacher of the Year. This is her first column for the AJC Get Schooled blog. And she's taking on a controversial topic -- Common Core State Standards.
Common Core is under attack in Georgia where the Republican state committee voted unanimously Saturday to urge state leaders to withdraw from the program because it “obliterates Georgia’s constitutional autonomy.” That is despite the fact that the standards were developed under the leadership of former Georgia GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Gov. Nathan Deal defended Common Core Tuesday, saying “I have an idea that, for those who claim the Common Core is dumbing down standards, that the test scores will demonstrate the exact opposite of that. I don’t think any of us want to dumb anything down. I just want us to have a standard we can be proud of, we can hold our students accountable to, and something that can hold our teachers to an objective standard.”
But Common Core has become a political fireball with the main charge being that the standards impose national controls on local education. "The members of the State Committee of the Georgia Republican Party should be commended for taking a firm stand against all efforts to nationalize educational standards and testing. Georgia's citizens want and deserve full control over their educational system. This vote will help pave the way to return to the people their constitutional authority over all educational policy in this state.” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who is leading the anti-core effort in the state Legislature.
Here is what the state's 2011 Teacher of the Year has to say about the issue:
By Pam Williams
As my children went through growth spurts, they would wake up at night, complaining of aching legs. I assured them they were feeling “growing pains.” Growing encompasses hard work, awkward stages, and often a good dose of pain, but that is what it takes to grow.
Georgia is going through its own growth as we implement the Common Core; we must accept that growing pains are inevitable. The bigger the change, the bigger the pains, but this is an opportunity to grow the achievement of our students, and Georgia teachers are working hard to move in the right direction.
As a teacher for more than 20 years, I remember classroom life prior to the QCC and GPS standards and the accompanying accountability of CRCT and EOCT. Education before the standards allowed tremendous freedom to teach with deep focus and critical thinking, but this also came with an often disjointed curriculum and little accountability. Then our early standards and the first rounds of standardized testing came. Teachers, myself included, struggled to find the balance of covering all of the standards in the given time while still providing opportunities for problem-solving and inquiry.
As these standards and assessments came into play, many teachers became more focused and engaged in order to make sure students had opportunities to learn all of the expected skills and content. However, this was a double-edged sword, as many teachers felt the pressure to shift into a role of disseminating information rather than facilitating more rigorous learning.
The Common Core is a needed bridge between these two extremes: teaching critical thinking and deeper understanding within a frame of coherence across the grade levels. This year has produced many challenges as teachers across the state have worked to build the bridge to implement Common Core.
I have seen much growth in ELA and reading informational text across disciplines. I cannot say the success was immediate; there were growing pains. However, many of those same teachers are now celebrating the successes of their students who are blooming as critical thinkers as they articulate what they are learning. I still hear real frustrations across all grade levels from math teachers; there are often deep gaps in students’ prior knowledge that need to be filled. This is far from easy, but so needed.
I truly support the initiatives in math as Common Core pushes toward discovery learning through real-life applications. I simply think we have expected too much too soon; this is a huge paradigm shift in teaching in this discipline. Teachers need patient support and effective professional development if this is going to be successful.
Common Core is a positive change that will benefit our children, but it can be tempting to ditch change when the work gets hard. Let’s face it, what we have been doing in Georgia has not been working; on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2011, our eighth graders only performed better than 10 states in Reading, and better than only eight states in Math. In both cases, we were below the national average. Our old standards clearly were not measuring up and Georgia students deserve the best!
This is not easy. I am thankful for the strong support in my district. We need all stakeholders to understand that this takes time. We need resources, professional development, support and time to get this right. Georgia has had a bumpy start. Early data on student achievement this year leaves room for improvement, particularly in math. There are those growing pains. We will get there, but growth takes time.
As we work to adopt the Common Core in our classrooms, we will all feel the growing pains. This is part of change, and these pains are worth it.
With the continued support of policy makers, administrators, community partners and parents, Georgia’s teaching force will foster a growth spurt in the minds of our children.