Connecticut Calls New U.S. Education Standards 'A Good Match'
Grace E. Merritt
March 12, 2010
Proposed national education standards that, for example, would expect kindergartners to count by tens and eighth-graders to explain the Pythagorean theorem probably would not pose problems for most Connecticut students, state education officials said Thursday.
"Overall, I think we're going to see a good match," said Harriet Feldlaufer, teaching and learning bureau chief for the state Department of Education.
Education officials in Connecticut and every other state are starting to analyze the new standards released Wednesday, which spell out in detail what concepts and skills students should learn in every grade from kindergarten through high school.
The standards, developed by experts appointed by the nation's governors and school superintendents to help the U.S. compete globally, would replace a hodgepodge of state guidelines that vary widely in rigor.
The new standards would have wide-reaching impact on schools, eventually leading to new curriculums, textbooks and tests, as well as revised teacher training, as states adopt them.
"I think our standards are pretty high in Connecticut, but that doesn't mean we won't have to adjust upward and adjust to things," Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.
Many of the new standards are similar to those already used in Connecticut, though officials said kindergartners would find math more challenging under the new proposal.
"There is concern about kindergarten math being too rigorous. Counting by fives, 10s and 20s — that's a lot for a 5-year-old," Feldlaufer said.
She said she also was surprised that the new standards do not cover preschool instruction, which would have provided a better bridge for students entering kindergarten. In addition, the plan is somewhat uneven among grades, she said, with some requiring significantly more skills than others.
The new standards are related to the federal Race to the Top competition for school reform grants. States must approve the proposed standards to be able to apply for more than $4 billion in stimulus funds being offered under Race to the Top.
While states must adopt the entire plan, each is free to customize it by adding a certain amount of material, Feldlaufer said.
The proposal will now be open for a monthlong comment period and then go to each state board of education for a vote by Aug. 1. If approved, the new standards could take as many as four years or more to be put into practice.
The group that developed the set of "common core" standards stopped short of calling the plan a national standard, a term that could alienate places that treasure local or state control over school systems, particularly New England. Texas already has opted out of the plan for that reason.
The idea that the plan is voluntary and developed by the states —not the federal government — is seen as an incentive to get the states to move forward.
"Personally, I think having a common core of standards across the United States makes a great deal of sense," said Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. "We are not 50 countries, and right now we have 50 different sets of standards. Countries across the world do not compete with 50 different assessment standards."
Brenda Welburn, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, said the proposed standards made sense in an age of global competition.
"The notion of local standards is a 20th century concept and fine when the states are competing with each other," she said, "but in the 21st century we are competing in a global market. For the strength of the nation, we need to ensure every child is taught at higher standards."
The proposal arrives during increasing criticism of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program, which some have said has prompted states to weaken standards so students could pass tests and the states could avoid federal sanctions.
The new standards, which cover math and English language arts, are designed to ensure that all students are ready for college or a career.
"It is raising the bar higher overall," said Duke Albanese, senior policy adviser for the Great Schools Partnership, an independent, nonprofit organization. "We're going to bring all kids to a much higher level of literacy."
But some experts question who will pay the enormous cost of training teachers, buying new textbooks and designing new tests.
"Every day in the newspaper there are announcements about teacher layoffs or elimination of positions. There appears to be a total disconnect between the national standards effort and the severe economic distress of state and local communities," said John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's biggest teachers' union.
"Clearly there is going to have to be a substantial investment by federal and state government if this is going to be successful."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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