Common Core and curriculum

IMG_3903     Mrs. Darby Arakelian

A new curriculum takes many aspects of planning and expertise and is a process closely monitored by the BOE, so it takes time for board members to be educated and informed.

“We haven’t dedicated the resources to getting it done and the resources aren’t just money, it’s time and energy and professional development training for our teachers,” Mrs. Arakelian said. “If you don’t train the trainer, the trainer can’t train your students.”

Training for teachers is an even more crucial step than ever before as Missouri begins to implement the new Common Core State Standards.

For Mrs. Arakelian, although there are pros and cons to CCSS, there really isn’t a choice whether or not RSD implements Common Core Standards; unless the Missouri legislature passes a new law to give school districts more flexibility with the standards.

“The basic objective of these new standards was to provide a baseline of academic measurement for all states for comparison purposes,” Mrs. Arakelian said.

She understands that many differing opinions about Common Core Standards can make it difficult to see how they will be implemented in RSD specifically.

“There is concern that our current curriculum, which in many areas, exceeds the standards required by CCSS, will be lowered,” Mrs. Arakelian said. “This is not something we intend to have happen in Rockwood.”

Mrs. Arakelian is optimistic to the effects that CCSS will have in the classroom throughout RSD.

IMG_1413     Mr. Matt Doell

“Common Core Standards were written to ensure that all students are achieving at least a minimum proficiency in core subject matters,” Mr. Doell said. “Rockwood exceeds these standards in every category.”

Mr. Doell emphasized that RSD does an excellent job of preparing kids for life after high school, whether it be a career or a college setting in terms of rigor. There is help for students who are struggling and need special attention, while AP or Honors courses are available to those who desire a more demanding education.

“In terms of what we are going to be teaching at what grade level, I don’t think it’s going to affect us very much at all,” Mr. Doell said. “We are not going to lower our standards to the Common Core. Generally we would have taught [concepts] sooner [than the Common Core]. We’re more rigorous, more aggressive in our standards.”

There may have to be adjustments with the students and teachers in terms of assessing where most of the public concern lies.

“Where Common Core can be more controversial and difficult to implement is the assessment process,” Mr. Doell said. “It’s all going to be technology driven, so other districts are going to have a harder time complying with that than we are. But we’re not finding that change to be a no-brainer, easy thing to do.”

That change in the classrooms in the source of anxiety.

“Change is seldom embraced,” Mr. Doell said. “In a certain system of how things are being assessed, nobody is looking forward to the tests, but they understand the system. So any change is going to come with trepidation. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means we have to make a path.”

IMG_3900     Dr. Keith Kinder

In terms of RSD’s curriculum, Dr. Kinder encourages the BOE to break the mold of former methods of test taking.

“We test because the legislature has to justify the means for their funding. To me, that is not what education is about,” Dr. Kinder said. “Education is about what you have learned throughout your 13 years as a student. A lot of people can memorize stuff and regurgitate it. I want Rockwood students to come out to be thinkers, analyzers and people who can see something and apply their knowledge to it. We need to get away from graduating test takers, and graduate thinkers.”

Dr. Kinder’s experience as a teacher has helped form his opinion that Common Core will help guide Rockwood teachers and better prepare their students for the next level.

“I am a proponent of Common Core. Common Core helps guide the teachers, instead of giving them a book and say ‘Here, teach,’ it gives them certain things to work towards for their students,” Dr. Kinder said. “I wish we could throw away the term Common Core and just call it ‘mastery learning,’ if we could just take the politics out of education and just educate because that’s what we are here for.”


IMG_1407     Mrs. Dominique’ Paul

With Common Core curriculum on the brink of implementation, Mrs. Paul is prepared to quell uncertainties concerning the changes in the classroom.

“The education I received was you read the book; you take the test; you read the book; you take the test,” Mrs. Paul said. “Common Core is a completely different approach. Making sure the public is aware of how this is going to be different for the kids and how it’s different in the classrooms is important.”

The district already has a proven track record of implementing this approach successfully.

“They are doing it already with the gifted children, so application-based learning should be good enough for the rest of the population,” Mrs. Paul said. “The rest of the population of Rockwood deserves that experience.”

One main change which will be evident throughout the district is the tracking of progress as a student graduates each year.

“I understand there’s some concerns with tracking, but we have to be able to track things to make sure things are working and going in the right direction,” Mrs. Paul said. “We have to track all information to prove the success or failure [of Common Core].”

Mrs. Paul eases anxiety by assuring that RSD is not implementing Common Core blindly.

“This is not just happening in Rockwood, and this is not just happening in the United States,” Mrs. Paul said. “When we compare ourselves to China or Finland, they are doing the exact same thing, and it’s working. We’ve stolen a page out of their book, and they have been doing it for a much longer period of time.”

IMG_3893     Mrs. Eileen Tyrrell

Mrs. Tyrrell’s research throughout the process of the implementation of Common Core Standards in Missouri reveals a decided naysayer.

“I agree with the national president of the NEA in that we better look it all over and that’s what my statement is,” Mrs. Tyrrell said. “Here’s the simplest way for me to explain what concerns me about common core: you want them [K-2 students] to be abstract thinkers before they’re concrete thinkers.”

The BOE is not responsible for selecting and implementing curriculum changes, but they do still play a role in the oversight and approval process.

“The board should be allowed to ask the necessary questions for oversight,” Mrs. Tyrrell said. “I would like to see more of the teachers coming back and saying, ‘How does it work? How is it working in your classroom?’”

Common Core Standards are just that, standards whereas curriculum is guide for the actual instruction, another facet of the Board’s oversight.

“The job of public education is to provide the best education experience for all students who do not wish to fund a private school education,” Mrs. Tyrrell said.

An important part of that educational experience is that students leave high school equipped with the skills they need to make it in an outside world, something that Mrs. Tyrrell doesn’t feel RSD does for everyone.

“I have a student that if he went to elementary and middle school in Rockwood, would not have been that successful in Eureka,” Mrs. Tyrrell said. “But he learned a work ethic where he went to elementary school and where he went to middle school.”

In order to make RSD a place that all learners can be successful, she feels resources for curriculum should become a higher priority in the creation of the budget.

“You don’t take the budget and say, ‘We need additional money for curriculum,’” Mrs. Tyrrell said. “You’re zero-based budgeting; you put that curriculum in first!”

Mrs. Tyrrell declined to comment about which programs in the district should be adjusted in order to allocate the proper resources to curriculum.