Common Core opponents say that the cost of implementing the new standards is burdensome and an “unfunded local mandate.” But I’d been impressed with the organized and high energy way that the White Mountains Regional School District is rolling out the new standards. The district is way down the road, under the direction of Superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Melissa Keenan. This small, North Country school district even has teams of coaches in each school dedicated to coaching the classroom teachers.
When I asked Dr. Fensom how costly that high-energy Common Core rollout was, he said:
The White Mountains Regional School District’s implementation of the NH Career and College Standards, New Hampshire’s standards based on the Common Core State Standards, has to date required no increase in the district-approved budget.
The new standards have been implemented in all WMRSD classrooms. We have seen some increases in costs for technology hardware and infrastructure which were not absolutely necessary but will allow us to reduce the testing time.
With regard to curriculum, training, etc. there have been no increases to accommodate CCSS. We have used the same funding sources (budget , Grants and some surplus) to meet these needs.
And how’s it going?
Educators see the value in the Common Core. It’s going to close the gap [between slower and faster learners]. It’s going to reduce the need for remediation. It’s going to make kids better prepared for college.
Assistant Superintendent Melissa Keenan:
Our teachers are now fully implementing the Common Core. We’ll be fully implemented this year. We’re ahead of schedule. And the teachers are loving it. We’ve developed standards based report cards. We’ve developed some common assessments. We’re working in increments across the grade levels. We’re really pushing teachers to get to know those standards, to identify which ones they don’t understand.
We also have math and reading specialists who work with our teachers on a weekly basis to help them work through the standards and understand them better.
Are the standards high? Absolutely. But have we scaffholded it so they can get here and have we had our expectations raised to meet that standard? Yes. And they’re doing it.
We raised the teachers’ expectations first and let them know what’s coming and then you can move on to raising the kids expectations. The teachers say, “This is what we’ve gotta do, so let’s get them there.” For veteran teachers, this is a no-brainer. They are the most willing to say this [implementing the Common Core] is possible.
Many of our math teachers, when they first looked at the standards, they were scared and skeptical about their ability to meet those standards. But then the realized that a hands-on approach might make those students learn quicker than an academic approach. I’ve seen them having children experience the math with hands-on things as opposed to, “here are some equations you need to learn.” They’re saying, “We need to be sure we’re providing enough experiences to kids so that they’re internalizing these things.” They are modifying their instructional practices to meet the standards. So I do seem them working hard at that.
We can have lessons. We can have activities. But let’s make sure that they’re tied to the standard. What is your goal for that activity and does it tie to what the standard is.
Melissa Keenan again:
The Common Core advocates for a much more integrated view of learning. In order to get a handle on the Common Core, we had to start at a literal level. What are the bits of knowledge that we wanted the kids to learn and teachers had to wrap their heads around that. And now that they’re doing that, they’re beginning to see, “Oh, I can teach a text of this genre and be writing about it and addressing multiple standards at the same time.