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June 7, 2014

Byng educator details issues with Common Core

Ada — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin last week signed a bill that calls for the State Board of Education to replace Common Core State Standards for English and math with a more homegrown version.

The decision was a tricky one politically for Fallin because she chairs the National Governors Association, a group that gave its seal of approval to Common Core. Being responsive to fellow governors is one thing, but Fallin also had to answer to Oklahoma voters who were increasingly disenchanted with Common Core Standards.

Bill Nelson, Byng Schools assistant superintendent, said he doesn’t know many educators who opposed Common Core. “Common Core caused educators to step back and look at what we were doing and try to get rid of some stuff that maybe didn’t matter that we latched onto over the years,” Nelson said. 

He said Common Core replaced PASS Objectives that were too broadly written.

“Common Core narrowed the focus and gave you a little more concrete target to shoot for, and I don’t know very many teachers that were unhappy about that,” he said.

The problem, Nelson said, is that Common Core is a “one size fits all” mentality. “Anybody can go to an American public school and has a right to go. I don’t argue about that, but to expect the same outcome (is not realistic),” he said.

He said American schools used to say that by 18 years of age all students should have achieved an identical educational level, but the current norm is for that to occur for all 10-year-olds.

“Well, that’s great unless you line up a classroom of 10-year-olds,” Nelson said. “You’ve got some who are doing complex math equations at home and some who haven’t yet finished their first comic book. That’s the dilemma.

“The old coach in me said if you could mandate excellence I would have been a lot better coach, because I absolutely told them they had to win all the time, and the truth is we lost a lot. I always had a best kid and a worst kid no matter what I did. There was always a range.”

Nelson takes exception to the notion implied by Common Core that higher-ups are more concerned about educating young people than those directly involved with the process.

“We’re being sold the idea that far away bureaucrats or public servants, even well-intentioned ones, care more about the progress of a kid than the person who sits in front of them for hundreds of hours per year.”

He said this attitude has discouraged many from entering the teaching profession. “Three or four years ago I had 75 elementary (teacher) applications on my desk in April. I didn’t have 25 total applications on my desk last year in all subjects. We have an English opening that we haven’t even had an applicant for yet.”

Another concern is the amount of pressure high stakes testing puts on children at such young ages.

“That has teachers concerned because they see the frustration it causes with kids who are still at the age where they’re trying to please people.

“I believe people are going to have to make some choices about what a school is supposed to do for their kids and who really cares. That’s what they need to decide. Who really cares? Does your local school care? Is your local school board willing to hold your teachers accountable? Does your local superintendent want schools to work right or just easy? At the state level the answer to all those questions in no, (local schools) don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t agree with that premise.”

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