The shift to the Common Core Standards received mixed reviews from parents in a meeting with Pinkerton Academy administrators, with some parents charging the Academy only gave one side of the new standards and administrators saying there is still local control.
Academic Dean Chris Harper presented the standards, which have been agreed-upon by 45 states, in a PowerPoint to about 100 parents in the Stockbridge Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 26. The presentation was held in conjunction with an information session on a proposed Unified Dress Code (see related story page 1).
Harper acknowledged different opinions on the standards with two slides, one of Moses on the mountain and one of a horned and winged devil. “It’s not ‘We’re all gonna die,’” he said. “There are people on both sides arguing the issues.”
Harper sketched the differences between “standards” and “curriculum.” The standards are like a building code, he said, adding, “There are certain things you have to do to meet code. But there’s freedom within those standards.”
He said local control remains under Common Core, with individual schools free to adapt curriculum within the standards to meet student and community needs.
New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts were the first group in the nation to set a group of standards, in 2006, that became the basis for the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test. Maine later joined them. Harper, a science teacher at the time, participated in the development of the standards and noted that there were differences among regions
“We went to Vermont and they said, ‘No oceans.’ Well, 70 percent of the world is water. But they said, ‘We don’t have a coastline.’”
Regional differences worked out, the standards went into action, Harper said. But 45 other states had standards, and the outcomes varied widely. In the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), a national test, achievement was all over the map, with only Massachusetts students achieving what the national standards called “proficient.”
“It was apples to oranges,” Harper said.
The drive began to set a national group of standards, he said, and that’s the Common Core. “I just had a kid move here from Ohio, and because of Common Core, he’ll come in knowing the same set of standards,” Harper said.
And standards and an annual standardized test are still required in order to receive federal education dollars, he said.
Harper said one misconception about Common Core is that it’s more skills-based than content-based. He pointed out that a good education under Common Core uses both.
The difference, he said, is that it’s not just memorizing facts. “A group of facts is good when you’re going to play ‘Jeopardy,’” Harper said.
According to Harper, the new standards teach children what to do with those facts, with concepts such as “model,” “prove,” “design,” “create” and “compare and contrast.” It’s “what can they do with the knowledge they have,” he said.
Another misconception is that reading fiction, in particular the classics, will be shunted aside in favor of nonfiction. That’s not happening, Harper reassured the parents. “We’ll still have Shakespeare, still have ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” he said. What’s changing is more emphasis on reading skills in classes other than English.
“Reading,” he said, “doesn’t always happen in English class.”
Harper urged parents to go on-line and look at the standards for themselves.
But some already had. One woman said, “There were two experts on the committee that refused to sign off on the standards. If you want to create critical thinkers, why are you only presenting one side of this?”
“There were a lot of issues,” Harper said. “But while some on the committee said ‘no,’ most said yes.”
One man expressed concern that Common Core meant “teaching to the test.”
Harper said Massachusetts has its MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) test, which students are required to pass before graduating high school. New Hampshire doesn’t have any “high stakes” test in its plans right now, he said.
One woman said, “Pinkerton already has high academic standards. Why do we need Common Core? You are ‘using’ our children in a pilot program.”
She charged that Common Core had not been “field tested.”
Harper responded that comparison studies had been done. “Standards are standards,” he said. Pinkerton has the prerogative as a local district that “if the standards are not rigorous enough for us, we’ll bump them up,” he explained.
He said the school’s technology is adequate for the Smarter Balanced test, which will replace the NECAP and is slated to go live in 2015.
Utility Scam Operating in State
New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster and Amanda Noonan, Public Utilities Commission Director of Consumer Affairs, warn New Hampshire utility customers about a scam operating in the state.
Consumers have complained of receiving calls from persons pretending to be with the customer’s utility company, and saying a past due balance exists on the account. The consumer is then threatened with disconnection of utility service unless the delinquent amount is paid. Typically the calls are made to small business customers late in the day, with only a few hours left to make a payment.
The calls are not from New Hampshire utility companies. Utility customers scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment receive written notice at least 14 days prior to any proposed disconnection, and the notice includes information about action to take to maintain service.
Anyone receiving these types of calls should not provide any type of financial information to the caller, including credit card or bank account information, and should not make any payment.
Calls should be reported to the Public Utilities Commission at 1-800-852-3793, or the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-888-468-4454.