As the school year begins, children adorned with new sneakers, new clothes and graffiti-free backpacks wait anxiously with sharpened pencils for their teachers to inspire and educate. Their teachers, filled with excitement for the new school year, are ready for the task.
For many teachers, part of their summer was spent at school participating in workshops and meetings to better prepare for the challenges that come with a new school year and a new group of students - and now a new set of standards. Regularly, teachers are responsible for assisting their students in meeting a standard level of achievement by the end of a given school year for each of the academic subjects. And, periodically standards must be updated, even revised.
The Common Core Standards, more commonly referred to as Common Core, have generated extensive discussion from folks around the country since they were approved by Arizona’s State Board of Education on June 28, 2010. This year has produced even greater debate as the Common Core is fully implemented in schools throughout the state. To help us sift through the dialogue, Arizona Agriculture reached out to Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, for clarity on the issue.
Arizona Agriculture: What is the ultimate goal of the Common Core?
Supt. Huppenthal: The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing, entry courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce. The standards are clear and concise to ensure that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of the expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics in school.
Arizona Agriculture: What is the difference between the “old” standards and the Common Core?
Supt. Huppenthal: Our former standards were far less rigorous and have been described as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The assessment aligned to the previous standards, Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS), tested to a tenth-grade level. This simply was not enough to properly prepare our students for life beyond high school. Arizona’s Common Core Standards were designed to prepare students for college and career pathways upon graduation. The new college and career ready standards reflect the real-world expectations of what is necessary for students to succeed in higher education and the workforce, including critical-thinking, problem solving and effective communication skills. To this end, the standards were developed using evidence that includes scholarly research; surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs; assessment data identifying college and career ready performance; and comparisons to standards from high performing states and nations, among other data.
Arizona Agriculture: What role did/does the Federal Government play in the Common Core? Are there federal dollars associated with the Common Core? What role do local school boards, districts and individual schools have in implementing Common Core?
Supt. Huppenthal: The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards. The standards were developed through a state-led initiative spearheaded by governors and state school chiefs. The driving leadership behind the decision to collaboratively develop new English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics standards was the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). This discussion began in 2008 as state leaders determined the most efficient method to significantly upgrade ELA and mathematics standards in the midst of budget cuts, limited human capital at local and state levels, and the need to move relatively quickly if U.S. public education was to reestablish itself as a leading world model.
Local school boards and districts will develop and implement the curriculum aligned with the new standards.
Arizona Agriculture: Will every Arizona school district follow the same curriculum?
Supt. Huppenthal: No. Standards are set by the State Board of Education. Curriculum—what a student is taught to meet the standards—is developed at the local level. A district’s curriculum must be in alignment with the new standards. For instance, the fifth-grade math standards include long division. The schools will choose and implement curriculum to meet that standard.
Arizona Agriculture: Are Arizona’s Common Core Standards different than the other states or are they all the same?
Supt. Huppenthal: The new education standards were developed with full participation from our experts here in Arizona; in fact, the lead developer of the math standards is a professor at the University of Arizona. The coalition agreed that each state could modify up to 15 percent of the standards; Arizona was one of the states that chose to make modifications.
Arizona Agriculture: Agriculture is always looking for a skilled workforce. Do you feel the Common Core will assist in producing students that are career ready for the agriculture sector?
Supt. Huppenthal: Yes. The contextual nature of the new standards goes to the heart of the type of learning that will help provide a workforce that is able to think and analyze as well as provide solutions to problems. Many of the standards also deal with key math and English concepts that are valuable to not only the Ag sector, but many other businesses and industry sectors. The Career & Technical Education Section at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has fully embraced the use of Arizona’s Common Core Standards within the 70-plus programs that are offered. Agriculture Science as well as other related “hands on” programs will benefit the Ag sector. These programs, due to the nature of the contextual learning associated with the Common Core, have already started the cross walking process with their academic associates within the secondary system in order to better deliver the nature of these new standards.
Arizona Agriculture: Do you see value in Ag in the Classroom (AITC) programs in relation to the Common Core, since the standards emphasize content and application of knowledge? (Students can contextualize their learning if they see application, which I personally think AITC does very well.)
Supt. Huppenthal: Absolutely. We know AITC works well within the Agriscience programs we now have. The contextual nature of this program blends very well with the new standards. Our programmatic specialist in Agriscience has worked with the coordinators many times. The AITC coordinators have offered trainings about the program to the CTE teachers through our professional development events.
Arizona Agriculture: Why do you support Common Core?
Supt. Huppenthal: We owe it to our children to raise the bar. The previous system did not serve our children well. Our universities and community colleges reported high demand for remedial courses for Arizona high school graduates because they were unable to pass college-level courses. Our employers have expressed concern that our high school graduates were not educated well enough to master technologically demanding careers. Our children must be able to compete for good jobs and the economic future of Arizona depends on the ability for our students to successfully complete postsecondary training—whether that’s college, community college, technical institutes, trade school, apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs.
Arizona Agriculture: There has been a lot of push back amongst some citizens of Arizona regarding the Common Core. Is there a possibility that they can be rescinded by the Board?
Supt. Huppenthal: The State Board of Education and ADE [Arizona Department of Education] are unwavering in our commitment to the new, rigorous standards adopted in 2010 and implemented in our public schools.
Editor’s Note: For more information regarding the Common Core or to see the Standards themselves, visit www.azed.gov/azcommoncore and www.corestandards.org. Farm Bureau neither endorses or opposes the Common Core Standard.