Montana students will find some things different when they go back to school this year.
The state adopted the Common Core Standards Nov. 4, 2011 for English language arts, and mathematics.
“One of the biggest things students are going to experience is a very strong emphasis on literacy,” said Havre School District Superintendent Andy Carlson.
Currently, Common Core covers only English and mathematics. The standards do not include the sciences or arts. The Common Core website says this is because English and math are “areas upon which students build skill sets which are used in other subjects. They are also the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes.”
Carlson said that just because Common Core does not cover sciences, arts and physical education does not mean that the schools will not have separate standards for them.
According to Carlson, Montana is not at the forefront of implementing Common Core. The states around Montana are ahead in the race, but Carlson said this works well for Montana schools.
“We’ve always kind of watched what was going around the country … to see what was working in other areas,” Carlson said. “We’ve been able to avoid some of the pitfalls that other states have been through.”
In the “Parent Fact Sheet,” made by the Montana Department of Instruction, there are guidelines as to what Common Core aims for and what it means. According to this document, the standards keep learning goals consistent with other schools in order that transferring students will be able to jump into a new school system with ease.
In the document, there is an emphasis on making attainable goals for students and being practical for teachers and schools.
Josh Preiss, the new principal of Sunnyside Intermediate School, said that Montana has been working to implement Common Core into schools for a couple of years, due to the steps schools need to take to be able to use it completely. Preiss said that his school is in stage 4, which implements them into the classroom, this school year.
Preiss said the biggest changes students will see in the classrooms is more reading and more writing. Students can expect to see more nonfiction writing and reading material this year of school.
“Before, students were seeing about 70 percent fiction and 30 percent nonfiction,” Preiss said. “Under Common Core, students will get about 50/50 fiction to nonfiction.”
According to Preiss, there will also be a strong emphasis on literacy and text complexity.
“Text complexity is very important,” Preiss said. “The goal is that the kids will be college- and career-ready when they graduate.”
Carlson spoke in line with this mindset.
“The technical manuals they’ll be reading once they’re trying to get a job after school will be at a college reading level,” he said. “Literacy is a high necessity.”
One of the arguments against Common Core Standards is that it is costly.
Montanans Against Common Core is against this, their website says, because it institutes national control of curriculum, requires $40 million to implement it in Montana, has lower quality standards, provides parents and school boards no recourse to influence content or standards, undermines the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment authority of states over education and institutes a massive national student tracking initiative.
Carlson disagreed with the arguments against Common Core.
“First of all, there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Carlson said. “It comes down to if you say something long enough, people start to believe it.”
Carlson said the argument that it is an all-amassing national curriculum that supersedes state-level power of its school system is false. He said the Common Core is a state-led initiative made by individual states.
“Curriculum decisions are still made at the local level,” Carlson said. “But if you’re concerned, the best way to be informed is to ask for the local curriculum. Come to the school board meetings.
“One of the first questions I ask is, have you gone out and read (the Common Core Standards)? What don’t you like about them? What is it that you disagree with?”
Preiss said Common Core is a stronger standard than what the schools have used in the past, but “what a lot of these standards are doing is simplifying what we need to be teaching into core pieces. It isn’t making significant changes to what we’ve been doing, just focusing on what we’re already doing.”
Debra Lamm is a lawyer and the founder of Montanans Against Common Core.
Lamm is concerned with the fact that, with 45 states which have adopted the standards, if parents or guardians are dissatisfied with the way their state’s school are run, they will have very little option to get away from this.
“It’s a copyrighted set of standards,” Lamm said. “Teachers will be less flexible and be allowed less innovation.”
If a school in a state under Common Core Standards wants to opt out of the program, that school will face losing accreditation, according to Lamm.
“The idea that is optional is not necessarily true,” Lamm said.
“The standards are ‘common.’ It’s a one-size-fits-all program,” Lamm said, adding that one of the biggest concerns about Common Core is that it may make education more difficult for special needs students.
“There is also the problem of data mining. Information (about students) will be made available to third parties and private parties. That is a huge concern for people,” Lamm said.
Companies like Pearson and SAT will be able to access information about future users of their products, according to Lamm. She said she has already heard of students being contacted from companies like these.
Thus far, 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards. Alaska, Texas, Virginia, Nebraska and Minnesota are the only ones who have held off accepting the program.