Feb 28 2018

Is Common Core Adding Up? The Ideal Environment For Educating

    On January 23rd, the Piedmont School Board reviewed the productivity of the Common Core program according to current Piedmont math teachers feedback and suggestions.

    The Piedmont School Board is composed of five elected members of the community whose purpose is to balance the interests of all members of the community in approving budgets, employing Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) faculty, and shaping the academic vision for the local schools. Typically, the Board meets the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, starting at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers in City Hall. The purpose of their meeting on Tuesday, January 23 was to review the evaluations of the Common Core curriculum by PUSD math teachers.

    At the top of the agenda was the integration of the Common Core curriculum into the PUSD.  Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, the Director of Curriculum for PUSD, spent the last week discussing how the schools, elementary to high school, can improve the math programs with current math teachers. One of the key takeaways from the faculty was that there must be more time spent on the goals of Common Core because students have no clue what they are.

    In her presentation, Dr. Wozniak also discussed the next steps in evaluating the program, citing a meeting on Monday, January 29 at 7:00 PM for questions by community members about the proposed changes. One of the proposals was for each course to be analyzed and determine how much content is teachable in one school year. The goal with this is to meet all the standards required by the state program, and district. Official proposals were released via email a few days prior, so she only touched on the feedback from teachers and their suggestions in remedying the faults in the curriculum.

    As a senior outside of the Common Core system, it is difficult to assess the Common Core program when its goals seem  foreign to those of us in more traditional math classes. The names of Common Core classes (for example, IM1, Compressed IM2, etc) give no clue as to what students will be learning in the school year, in comparison to my clearly defined classes with names such as Calculus AB or Statistics. My understanding of Common Core curriculum is that it strives for depth of knowledge and rigor but beyond that, I do not see how it differs from any other math class. When asking a freshman at Piedmont High School and in Common Core, he reiterated my confusion saying “I have been in the Common Core program since 7th grade and I still don’t even know what the goals are”.

    At the end of the meeting, I met with Cory Smegal, one of the five sitting Board members, to hear her take on the next steps that the Board will be taking in judging the Common Core curriculum. Ms. Smegal said “Dr. Wozniak has a parent meeting scheduled for next week which I plan on attending where she will put forth the recommended tweaks to the math pathways”. She further explained that “[the school] isn’t making large scale changes to my understanding, but there will be some tweaks”. When asked about how else the Board plans to involve the community in the decision process, she quickly responded, saying “I would also love to hear more from students” because they bring a crucial perspective to the issues presented.

    All in all, discussions will be continued in assessing their proficiency — these conversations to be had within the schools faculty, administrators, and community.

By Madeline Levine, Piedmont High School Senior


The Ideal Environment For Educating –

    During the Piedmont School Board Meeting on January 23rd, School Board members discussed the importance of educating our children. Members of the School Board meet twice a month, and are responsible for approving all policies, administrative regulations, and donations. One of the questions they are trying to answer is: How can we incorporate and create learning material that is both challenging and interesting to students? Another concern they are addressing is how to create policies that establish and ensure a healthy learning environment for students and teachers.

    The meeting’s main discussion focused on how to change our education system to make learning the best experience for all students. There is so much competition when it comes to schools and education, however, the majority of parents are concerned that the quick pace of classes is preventing kids from gaining depth.

     The middle school teachers’ surveys reported that they need to incorporate more challenging questions and projects to make math more interesting. Then the board discussed the importance of communicating with parents about depth of content vs. speed of content. Overall, their objective is to balance the need to challenge students with the importance of experiencing both the breadth and depth of the courses.

    According to both middle school and high school teachers, math seems to be more for the purpose of getting admitted into college and not for the benefit of learning. For example, teachers expressed that from their viewpoint it makes sense to eliminate one of the AP Calculus classes because the reason that the majority of students take these courses is for the purpose of college admissions. Teachers also showed support for compression in middle school math as opposed to skipping 6th grade math entirely. However, teachers want the opportunity to further analyze the material of the compressed courses and the amount of content they are able to teach. Often students in compression have to go quickly through the content, due to the fast pace structure of the curriculum, losing the depth of the content.

    Another main focus was on the kind of support that can be brought to schools. The Board discussed the importance of the Teen Health Survey and reviewing certain policies. The policies they are in the process of reviewing are Complaining Against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect, Process on Expulsion and Suspension, Hazing, Bullying, and Hate Crimes. They are also planning on creating a Board policy for teachers’ social media.

     Another important topic evaluated was the constant shift in behavioral rules and what is considered acceptable behavior. The School Board recognizes these shifts and aims to do their best to fit the expectations of parents and students, however, it is challenging to make perfect policies. The School Board also plans to make policies more accessible to parents and encourages student participation in editing the policies.

    The president’s of PAINTS and MAKERS spoke to the School Board and informed them about their goal to increase participation and their decision to join forces when applying to grant programs.

    Cheryl Wozniak delivered the results of the Student and Parent Surveys, as well as the Teacher Surveys. She presented the takeaways and new objectives towards improving education and the learning environment. She expressed the teachers’ hopes to fix the pace of the material, so that kids can fully retain the content of the material. A parent from the audience, spoke about how she hopes that the revised content in math classes will make both her kids more interested and engaged.

    I think that going into depth of content in a math course is more valuable than taking quicker paced math classes in order to reach the most challenging math courses offered. Personally, I think it is harder to absorb and master the information when classes are fast paced. Often material is based off of material learned in previous units, therefore, if a student hasn’t mastered the previous material it can be harder to learn the material from the next unit. Math can be a very competitive subject, so students may enter an advanced math class that they are not entirely prepared for.

   Later, Superintendent Randall Booker educated the School Board about their new event “Let’s Talk Building a More Inclusive Piedmont,” an event where interactions between colleagues, empty nesters, students, and any other members of Piedmont are prompted. He also addressed the concern for improved sexual harassment prevention in schools and the importance of creating a strong foundation. He expressed the need to support students and staff and create concrete rules concerning exposure to power and specific language. He argued how crucial it is to construct a healthy balance for students and at the same time give them power. The Board intends to increase staff collaboration, including training and conversations. Teachers are planning to receive training over the summer with facilitators, instead of taking online training. Also the Superintendent stressed the need to continue reviewing and editing policies referring to these issues.

    I interviewed Doug Ireland, who is a member of the School Board. Originally what inspired him to run for his position five years ago was that the superintendent was retiring and he wanted to help find another one. Another reason he ran was because “Common Core curriculum was being introduced and he thought there would be resistance in our community,” however, it was a new State policy and a requirement (Ireland). His biggest concern now is with behavior within the School District. There have been issues of racism, harassment, and potential violence and there is no perfect way to solve it.

by Megan Aikawa, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

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