More than 400 people attended an education forum at Coastal Carolina University Wednesday night to learn about the Common Core State Standards that are to be fully implemented in school districts statewide beginning in the fall.
The standards outline what students should know and be able to do at each level from kindergarten through grade 12 in English language arts and mathematics. Two S.C. education boards adopted Common Core in 2010, and the state is one of 44 that have begun implementation in the schools, but some legislators have been fighting to repeal the standards altogether.
The CCU forum was hosted by the Spadoni College of Education and was designed to address the issues – facts and myths – surrounding the development and implementation of Common Core. Spadoni College Dean Edward Jadallah, who moderated, said the forum was not a debate and emphasized the event was for speakers and panelists to provide their ideas on Common Core so that everyone would leave with a better understanding of the truth and what the standards are intended to accomplish.
Registration was required for the event, and audience members included Horry County Schools teachers and CCU education students, as well as an equal number of business and community members, Jadallah said.
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“I had some ideas [about Common Core], but they’ve answered my questions and given me things to ponder and think about,” said substitute teacher Mary Gerdes, who graduated from CCU in December and is preparing for interviews.
The forum opened with an overview of how Horry County Schools is implementing Common Core. HCS Chief Academic Officer Cindy Ambrose outlined reasons educators like the standards, saying they give students a level playing field with school systems outside the state, reducing learning gaps for transient students and keeping students competitive. A panel of teachers – Terra Bodkins, Elissa Blosser and Kelly Johnson – explained how curriculum has been written to the standards in the district and what is happening in the classroom.
Keynote presentations were made by CCU trustee Oran Smith, senior fellow at Palmetto Policy Forum, and Eric Smith, a former commissioner of education for the state of Florida who also served as senior vice president for college readiness of the College Board.
Oran Smith found good and bad with the standards, saying they are not the same as curriculum, but they were introduced in South Carolina very quickly and with very little discussion, and there was not a national conversation surrounding them. His recommendations included revisiting the standards, revising and restructuring them.
Eric Smith said he has been involved with the work of Common Core since the beginning and worked with both of the consortiums that have developed assessments aligned with the standards. He took issue with critics who say the federal government coerced states into adopting Common Core, saying no one from Washington ever told his state what to do, and said the most important part of Common Core is how it will be assessed.
Both speakers also joined a discussion panel with HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry; Patti Hammel, executive director of student performance and federal programs for the Georgetown County School District; and Dillon Jones, a policy analyst for the S.C. Policy Council who is a critic of Common Core.
Applause broke out at times when Elsberry and Hammel defended the standards, including the higher levels of thinking they require and the benefits that are occurring from teachers working together.
“We’ve asked our students for many years to [mark answers] on test questions,” Elsberry said. “Whatever the assessment is, we desire it be different for our children, that they have to think and analyze. … We want them creating and doing the things that made this country great.”
CCU senior Erica Norwood is interning at Waccamaw Elementary School this year and said she attended the forum because she wanted to know more about what’s coming up in the future. She said she didn’t hear anything surprising, but she’s already experiencing the standards at school.
“We’re doing close reads in math, and the kids are thinking higher and explaining what they’re doing,” Norwood said. “I’m already seeing Common Core in action.”