State schools leader calms Common Core fears

By Peggy Spear on April 21, 2014

The state superintendent of schools’ office has some soothing words for critics of Common Core, the contentious new curriculum standards set to debut in California classrooms next fall.

“We’re not New York,” said Craig Cheslog, a principal advisor to State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson, speaking to members of the Diablo Valley Democratic Club earlier this month. “We’re not going to screw it up.”

With those words, Cheslog acknowledged what many of the growing number of Common Core critics have been saying —that in some states this new education revolution is ill-thought out, politically motivated and possibly damaging to kids.

Cheslog said many high-ranking education leaders of the state’s, as well as a majority of its teachers, support Common Core and its focus on preparing students for careers in the 21st century.

“Many states have rushed to implement Common Core,” Cheslog says. “There has been little to no professional development, and they are rushing the testing without making sure it works, linking them to high stakes. In California, we will be ‘testing the test’ before it’s linked to high stakes.”

There will be no API-like score for two years, he said, referring to the scores schools would be assigned based on the now-obsolete STAR tests.

One of the major issues educators worried about Common Core was that it would tell them how to teach the standards. “That will all be decided at a local district level,” Cheslog says. “The standards will tell the teachers what needs to be taught, not how to teach them.”

He says that decisions like professional development, textbooks and literature will all be decided upon at a local level.

Common Core does stress more biographies be read, but Cheslog says that can be spread across all disciplines, leaving more room in literature classes to study fiction and classics. “That decision is up to the districts.”

He said that some of California’s interpretation of Common Core differs from the federal government — and that’s okay. One of them is that the state will not use Common Core testing to grade teachers. “We shouldn’t use tests to grade teachers unless a test is designed to grade teachers.”

Despite Cheslog’s assurances, many parents in the district are still wary of the new standards. Clayton’s Denise Pursche has been a local leader in the fight against Common Core.

“I do think there is good to the Common Core,” she says. However, she objects to issues of data-mining information on students and having inappropriate grade-level standards that are not clearer or more concise.

“Regardless of the use of more critical thinking and preparing students for the 21st Century, why not take our previous standards and supplement them with a few things? Instead the state turned everything upside down.”

To help parents better understand Common Core, both the positives and the negatives, she and other members of Concerned Parents and Educators of the East Bay will be holding a forum April 29. A panel of education experts from different political backgrounds will be on hand to explain what the developers of the standards mean by often-used terms like “college readiness,” “internationally competitive,” “student privacy,” “critical thinking” and more.

 

The free forum will run from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Perera Pavilion Room of the Pleasant Hill Community Center, 320 Civic Drive in Pleasant Hill. To register to attend, visit www.tinyurl.com/mycs94z.

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