DES MOINES | The Iowa Department of Education has rolled out a series of training classes for teachers across the state this spring as Iowa moves toward adoption of the closest thing the United States has to national standards.
So far, 45 states, three territories and the schools in the U.S. Department of Defense have adopted the Common Core, which sets learning standards for children in K-12 schools.
Iowa adopted the Common Core standards as part of the Iowa Core in 2010, but districts have moved at different speeds in integrating them to the school curriculum.
“It varies from district to district,” Department of Education Deputy Director Kevin Fangman said. “They will be part of the accreditation process for the 2014-2015 school year, so it needs to be done by then.”
That’s the impetus for the workshops the department developed because teachers not only have to integrate the core standards to their lesson plans, they also have to understand them.
For example, Fangman points to a study conducted by Michigan State University’s William Schmidt that, nationwide, only half of the teachers surveyed in grades 1-5 feel prepared to teach the mathematics standards. About 60 percent of middle school teachers feel prepared, and about 70 percent of high school teachers feel prepared.
CORE HELPS TEACHERS
Bridgette Wagoner, director of educational services for the Waverly-Shell Rock School District, said teachers in her suburban district work on the core during their weekly professional development time.
“I don’t know if I agree with the term 'fully implemented,' because to me it’s a continual process,” she said. “We’re doing a whole lot of things with the core, and there’s a lot of support for the core.”
Wagoner said one advantage of a common core is that teachers have clear standards set out already and their work revolves more around how best to teach the standards than what standards need to be developed.
She speaks from her experience in helping the state develop the Iowa Core.
“The amount of resources that were spent discussing what to teach really took away from the time that could be spent on how to teach,” she said.
Fangman said that, from a state perspective, having other states involved in, and using, a common standard makes it easier for Iowa to share resources and best practices with other states.
The Common Core also is the basis for two new testing assessments being developed by state consortiums. One of those is the Smarter Balanced assessment that Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass favors. He had Iowa become a governing state in the development of the test last year and has told lawmakers they should consider adopting it statewide when it is ready.
THERE ARE OPPONENTS
Still, there are questions about the Common Core. So far, only Kentucky has fully implemented it, said Ryan Reyna, program director of the education division at the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C.
The Common Core came out of a voluntary effort by the National Governor’s Association, and Reyna emphasizes that it is a “state-run, voluntary initiative,” not a federal program or mandate.
Seven other states are expected to have it implemented by 2012-13, another 20 the following year and 15 more, including Iowa, by 2014-15.
Five states have, so far, rejected the Common Core: Alaska, Texas, Nebraska, Virginia and Minnesota.
“Well, it’s really 4 1/2,” Reyna said, “because Minnesota adopted the Language Arts piece but didn’t adopt the mathematics piece. It felt its current math standards were stronger.”
He said states that haven’t adopted the standards generally reason that their standards already are superior. There are, however, other reasons people are against the Common Core.
“Education should be made at the local level, not at the state level or the federal level,” said Norm Pawlewski, a lobbyist with the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Pawlewski and other like-minded advocates worry about the nationalism of the effort. Last month, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher called the initiative “Obama’s Common Core” and likened it to the president’s health-care initiative.
Pawlewski said that even though the state officially adopted the Common Core in 2010, the fight isn’t over. He points to Urbandale Sen. Brad Zaun’s move last session to eliminate the Iowa Department of Education.
Zaun withdrew his bill on the Senate floor.
“I think this next session you’ll see some people in the House who feel the way Senator Zaun feels speak up,” he said. “We’ll continue fighting against the core.”