The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily of the Davis Clipper
In a recent mass e-mailing, retiring State Representative Jim Nielson made some adverse and (in my judgment) poorly-informed comments about the State Board of Education’s adoption of Common Core standards.
I asked Rep. Nielson to send my response to his remarks to the same e-mail recipients. He declined. I am, therefore, using this letter to share my reactions to the same people.
Although I could not tell from his blog Rep. Nielson’s opinion of the core, I did understand he thought the State School Board should “apologize” for pursuing or the manner we have pursued the core standards.
I have several reactions:
An apology? I am not afraid to apologize, but I have no idea what I would be apologizing for. Expecting more of students? Setting standards which will enable them to be successful in post-secondary training and careers? Preparing students to compete globally?
International studies (PISA) over the past 20 years show 40 countries have made progress in mathematics achievement, but the U.S. isn’t one of those countries. We have remained flat and are comparatively losing ground. Would you have us forget this downward trend?
I cannot apologize for a course I believe will be beneficial to Utah students.
The State Board and State Office of Education are trying to respond frequently and clearly about the core. The Board’s website schoolboard.utah.gov talks about the values and our reasons for supporting the core.
Opposition to the core? Whenever change occurs, some are uncomfortable with the change. Critics are frequently very vocal.
However, many parents, educators, and citizens support the core. Of those who focus on math pedagogy supporters include: the Utah Core Advisory Committee, the Utah Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Utah Curriculum Directors, the Utah State Mathematics Education Coordinating Committee, the Utah State Higher Education Mathematics Majors Committee, and the Northern Utah Curriculum Consortium.
When criticism is levied, it is vital for the criticism be heard and evaluated. Because some critics are very vocal does not mean you should desert your principles. This fact echoes throughout our political and religious history.
Teacher attitude? Although all do not agree, my experience suggests the significant majority of teachers support the changes; many are very supportive. In a recent survey of elementary and secondary math teachers, 92 percent have implemented all or most of the standards outlined in the Utah Mathematics Core, and teachers were moderately confident (3.2 on a scale of 1-4) about teaching the standards. In general, elementary teachers were more positive overall than secondary math teachers.
Training, materials and resources seem to be the greatest concern needed to help the transition during implementation. From what I can discover, school districts are actively moving ahead to resolve this challenge.
I understand that much is being asked of teachers in this adjustment; but, on the whole, I believe teachers are responding admirably.
My overall judgment about implementation of the common core is positive. I know we have challenges, and indeed meeting the objections of vocal critics is one of them. Rep. Nielsen and all readers, I hope you will be helpful in making the adjustments. To simply “wring your hands” about the challenges does not move us positively forward.
Kim R. Burningham
Member, State Board of Education