The Union Leader reported yesterday on the most recent chapter in Manchester’s long-running Common Core saga. The Curriculum and Instruction Committee of the Manchester Board of School Committee convened to give the public an opportunity to comment on the new Manchester Academic Standards. Critics said they don’t feel the new Manchester standards are new enough. Supporters would say that’s because the Common Core already sets a high standard. But at least the process looks as if it must be coming to a conclusion.
Until last summer, Manchester had been implementing the Common Core on a school-by-school basis, each on its own schedule, driven by teacher commitment and each principal’s sense of priorities and pace. Some 50 Manchester teachers spent a good part of last summer diving deeply into the new standards and creating Common Core lesson plans for the next school year. Schools like Hillside Middle School, Gossler Park Elementary School, Northwest Elementary School (and here), McLaughlin Middle School and many others charged ahead with conviction and energy.
Like virtually every other school board in New Hampshire, the MBOSC had never formally taken a vote to adopt the Common Core – or any other state standard over the past 20 years. But political opponents of the Common Core managed to get the standards question on the board’s agenda last October. Amid pleas to settle the issue, the MBOSC voted 13-1 to create it’s own Manchester Academic Standards based on the Common Core and other standards, with mayor Gatsas in strong support.
Manchester administrators then worked with teachers to develop the Manchester Academic Standards. There was a packed house of supportive teachers for June 8th MBOSC meeting at which 13 Manchester teachers proudly presented the Manchester Academic Standards, the results of eight months work by over 60 teachers. As the Union Leader reported, their work was “largely well-received by the school board and Mayor Ted Gatsas.”
But Common Core opponents were not satisfied. At this week’s meeting of the curriculum committee, opponents expressed their concern that the Manchester Academic Standards are not different enough from the Common Core standards and expert Common Core opponents were not given a big enough role in the development process.
This is a familiar complaint. Indiana and virtually every other state that has pulled back from the Common Core develops replacement standards that look much like the Common Core. For good reason. Hundreds of New Hampshire teachers helped develop the Common Core standards, alongside many others from around the country. As a result, the standards embody widely accepted principles of good teaching. When Manchester or Indiana look closely, as critics demand, they actually find little to object to.
There is a benefit to the extensive review Manchester teachers have done. They are now familiar with the inner workings and the benefits of the standards in a way that might have taken years to achieve otherwise. These teachers will be a resource to their peers throughout the district. And they did make changes, particularly in math, that they feel will better meet the needs in Manchester.
There’s another benefit as well. The new Manchester Academic Standards have the strong support of Mayor Gatsas. Here’s the mayor’s quote from this week’s coverage of the curriculum committee meeting:
Mayor Ted Gatsas said after the hearing that he was pleased with the Manchester standards because “I have confidence in the teachers that worked on them.”
Referring to the difference between Common Core and the city standards, he said, “I don’t know if it’s a big distinction, but there is a distinction, and a lot of people worked very hard to make sure there is a difference.”
The Manchester school district has now spent most of a year reviewing concerns about the quality of the Common Core standards and has come to the same conclusion that every other New Hampshire SAU has: the new standards, modified to fit local priorities, work well in New Hampshire classrooms.
It turns out, common core testing prepares our students for what they will face as adults: pointless stress and confusion:
Good comedy. Not much help as education policy.
Yes, hopefully the political process (sideshow) is drawing to a close so that Manchester teachers and leaders can get back to the really hard and rewarding work of teaching and learning. The standards are words on a page and they are only as effective or ineffective as the way in which they are implemented. High quality implementation requires curricular materials thoughtfully designed to reflect/embody the standards and instructional strategies designed to allow students to engage meaningfully with the required content and skills.