Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 19, 2014

County panel learns about Common Core Standards

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — Cumberland County's Schools and Education Committee heard a presentation last week from Director of Schools Donald Andrews and an education panel with one person from the state regarding Common Core Standards adopted by the state and the county's education system.

Cumberland County Director of Schools Donald Andrews said, "I support Common Core because the state of Tennessee says they're going to implement them."

The presentation said Common Core Standards adopted by the state of Tennessee will require students to demonstrate a level of understanding of concepts that have not been previously required of students.

Susan Huneycutt, Cumberland County schools assistant director of human resources, explained the new standards require critical thinking and responding, rather than just repeating something back to the teacher.

"By cutting down on the number of standards, it will allow students to think and explore, to research and problem solve and understand why they are doing something. It'll allow them to understand what they're doing. It's critical with the technology today ... It will help make sure (students) have the skills to think and problem solve," Huneycutt said.

Huneycutt said with 180 days of school and 113 standards, it's hard to get everything covered, even during a normal school year, without missing so many snow days.

"With 25 (standards), teachers are able to spend more time with those (standards), which is a huge benefit with Common Core," she said.

During a Powerpoint presentation, Janice Fox, executive director of Upper Cumberland Center of Regional Excellence (CORE), explained Common Core state standards represent the goal for what students should learn, set expectations for what students should know and be able to do and are a set of clear standards for the subjects of math and English language arts.

The standards were developed to ensure every student graduates high school prepared for college or the workforce.

Andrews and Fox praised the efforts of teachers and faculty at Frank P. Brown Elementary School for its strides toward improvements in state test scoring and for being named the top middle school in Tennessee by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) for dramatically improving student achievement.

Brown Elementary School Principal Christie Thompson was one of the members of the panel making the presentation to the committee, as was Michelle Cole, RTI teacher at Brown.

Thompson said, with a level of 84 percent free and reduced students at the school, it demonstrated that being held to the high standards as all other top schools, the new methods were teaching students about thinking, "Not just in school, but in life."

Although Common Core State Standards were developed to emphasize problem solving, creativity and critical thinking, with an emphasis on "real-world" skills in math, reading and writing, the standards have become somewhat of a controversial, political topic. Some complaints were made about taking away local control of schools and undermining public education.

Rein Maavere, of Cumberland County, attended the meeting and expressed concern about Common Core, stating the data from the testing would be reported to Washington, D.C. and, "They will dictate and tell us what to do and what to teach. We will lose our identity as a state," he said.

Andrews responded, saying the information shared would not be on an individual basis and that all but four states would be on Common Core.

"Can I ask what is the concern?" Andrews asked.

A woman, who said she was a retired teacher, but would not identify herself, said it was a concern and problem with control.

"They will tell you what to do and what not to do ... It will bring everything down to the level of Common Core and that will be it," she said. "It will put a limit on education."

Andrews said he taught back in the 1970s and there was only one way back then.

"You taught, they listened and regurgitated what you said. It's different today. We're facilitators of learning. Part of teaching is helping (students) become critical thinkers, and it is a positive thing," Andrews said.

He also added that government is already involved to a certain extent.

Rolf Weeks, a county resident who also attended the meeting, said, "If you want to change government, then you can do so at the voting booth, but we have to support our schools and our superintendent and I believe this is forward looking for education."

Roy Turner, 7th District commissioner, said he thought Common Core sounded like a good idea, but expressed concerns over cell phone usage in the school system.

Turner said he felt the phones were a major distraction and source of many problems, not only with students, but some teachers.

"It wouldn't hurt to ban all of them," he said.

The Schools and Education panel Chairman, 9th District Commissioner John Kinnunen, thanked the group for attending the meeting and explaining Common Core to the committee.