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September 11, 2013

School board signs resolution to support Common Core Standards

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Students at Ferndale High School started classes Sept. 3 using the Common Core Standards after Ferndale educators worked with Oakland County officials to write a new curriculum. The Ferndale Schools Board of Education sent a resolution to Gov. Rick Snyder and members of the Michigan Legislature to endorse the new standards.

FERNDALE — The Common Core Standards may be up for discussion at the state level, but in Ferndale, educators and administrators are moving forward with the standards and implementing them this school year.

Furthermore, the Ferndale Schools Board of Education unanimously voted during the Aug. 19 meeting to endorse the principles and goals of the Common Core Standards and send a resolution to Gov. Rick Snyder and members of the Michigan Legislature.

“The Common Core Standards are under attack from a noisy, narrow segment of the political spectrum,” Board President Jim O’Donnell said. “Common Core Standards are important to moving forward in establishing consistent benchmarks for our students, including critical-thinking skills and the project-based learning skills that are critical to 21st century success.”

Teachers, legislators and other education professionals in 44 states developed the Common Core Standards to provide a consistent set of expectations in English language arts and mathematics for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The Michigan Board of Education voted to adopt the standards as the state standards in 2010.

There have been concerns, however, that the Common Core Standards take away freedom for each local school district, as well as concerns on the new testing associated with the standards.

“The standards are just standards and don’t tell you when to teach them or how to teach them,” said Barbara Evoe, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Ferndale School District. “They don’t talk about what materials to use, what order to teach things in or what good instructional practices to use. We get to teach how we want to teach and in the methods we want to teach; that is all local control.”

In the board’s resolution, they stated that members “strongly urge the Michigan Legislature to support and fund their continued implementation in Michigan’s public education system in order to maintain Michigan’s commitment to rigorous expectations for all students through equitable funding and support for economically disadvantaged districts.”

Ferndale has worked with the Oakland Schools, the county intermediate school district, to create a joint curriculum for several schools in the district. Teachers from Ferndale have helped write the curriculum and have piloted the curriculum in classrooms before beginning to implement the standards when school started Sept. 3.

“Local school boards, such as Ferndale’s, retain control over textbooks, curriculum and instruction methods,” O’Donnell said. “The Common Core Standards are a positive development that will help Michigan and our kids prepare for the future.”

Republican Rep. Tom McMillin, of Rochester Hills, is one of those in the state Legislature who opposes the Common Core Standards. McMillin’s biggest concern, he said, is the fact that the National Governors Association owns the standards and the accompanying Smarter Balanced tests.

“I’ve been working to stop our state’s turning over Michigan’s standards taught in all public school classrooms to a national private trade association (NGA) via the Common Core and the high-stakes, federally-funded testing,” McMillin said in an email. “If we are going to grade our teachers and schools on high-stakes tests, it seems to me that we should be able to decide what is on those tests, which we cannot with Smarter Balanced.”

Evoe said Ferndale has had teachers training on the new standards for the past two years on top of planning a new curriculum to adhere to the standards. While the standards only apply to English language arts and mathematics, she said what is learned in those two subjects carries over to other content areas.

“Students will be learning less isolated skills, and there will be a more integrated approach,” Evoe said. “Students can take their English standards into social studies, as they need to know how to use reading and writing skills in other content areas, as well. It is good to have the teachers teaching at this depth and having the students acquire what these standards bring.”

On top of the content areas and testing skills, Evoe said the new standards help prepare the students for the world after high school.

“We believe the standards are the right move because of the rigor of the standards and the depth of knowledge and application to the real world,” she said. “These are skills the students can learn that they will use in the real world and on the job. We aren’t asking students to just do simple skills, like add two digits at the elementary level, but asking them to add two digits and project them into a problem they might face in the real world.

“They aren’t just solving problems, but using the knowledge, which is good for the students.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.