Both believe Common Core will raise the academic expectations to help ensure students are college- and career-ready.
A point of contention among those against the education change has been the belief Common Core has too many standards. McDaniel suggested Tennessee’s old standards did not properly prepare students for life after high school.
“I see the Common Core as a positive in helping us focus on what is most important as we work toward those common goals,” McDaniel said.
Ringstaff agreed, saying the reduction in standards will allow schools to, “teach deeper and be more creative.”
Teachers in turn will have an opportunity to spend more time exploring a subject. The idea is Tennessee’s old standards were once a mile wide and a foot deep. Proponents of Common Core say the new standards will be a mile deep and foot wide at each level.
Implementation of Common Core began three years ago. Initially, standards were integrated into kindergarten through second grade during the 2011-12 school year. The next set of standards were then implemented into grades third through eighth the following year. The final set of standards have since been initiated in high schools for the 2013-14 school year.
Ringstaff admitted the change has not been easy. However, it is what he believes is best for the students. He said he does not understand opponents of Common Core who suggest: stopping the process; picking and choosing the standards; or returning to Tennessee’s original standards.
“What would we do? Go back to the old standards? They were terrible, we know they are terrible. Look at the state averages of Tennessee. Why would we accept that?” Ringstaff asked. “Why do we think it is OK to back up at this time and say, when the whole country is moving forward in education and we think we are doing great things with college and career readiness, let’s hit the pause button and back up? It would be terrible.”
He said his strong support of Common Core stems from his belief it is better than the old standards used by Tennessee.
“I will be the first to say if the state of Tennessee comes out with an awesome set of standards that are better than Common Core, that are better than the performance indicators we already have, then I am on board,” Ringstaff said. “I am not married to Common Core because it is Common Core. I am married to Common Core because they are better than what we are doing.”
Bradley County and Cleveland City have been working toward full implementation for three years. The goal is to have students prepared for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment in 2015. Teachers and administrators have attended conferences in an effort to gain a firm grasp on the new standards.
Some have suggested Common Core will limit teacher creativity by governing how teachers should teach.
Ringstaff agreed the new standards will affect how students are taught, but insisted it will be for the betterment of students without having a negative impact on teaching methods.
“There is no rote memory out there. There are a lot of awesome things going on: group work, kids working through problems together — a lot of collaborations. That is what you get in the real world. You get together as groups to work through issues,” Ringstaff said.
McDaniel said teachers in Bradley County Schools have risen to the challenge.
“These new standards have not changed the way we select our textbooks and develop lesson plans,” McDaniel said. “These standards do not mean that we have lost any of our unique Bradley County values.
“It really has seemed rushed and I think that’s part of the stress that teachers feel. Because of all the changes that have occurred Tennessee is almost operating on overload.”
Curriculum choices, testing and teaching methods will be determined at a local and state level. A list of acceptable textbook options are approved at the state level, then local school boards select which of the options they want to adopt. Selections in Bradley County are based on recommendations and teacher research completed by the supervisor for education department heads.
Ringstaff said there have been a lot of questions surrounding Common Core’s impact on the school system’s curriculum.
“This is where people get confused. What is taught in the Bradley County and Cleveland City classrooms is chosen by Bradley County and Cleveland City teachers. They are not chosen by the standards,” Ringstaff said. “The standards say nothing other than children should be able to count to this number in the first grade.”
Some opponents have expressed concerns over what they see as a stringent academic program.
Ringstaff asked why schools systems would refrain from pushing their students.
“That is how you get better. When did education become, ‘Let’s keep the kids comfortable and not challenge them to the best of their abilities?’” Ringstaff asked. “We should be challenging them. They should be frustrated when they can’t find the answers. They should want to find the answers. That is what we do in the real world.”
Common Core only gives standards for English/Language Arts and Math. It does not address social studies or science. School systems must then decide how they are going to teach students in order for them to meet the standards set forth.
McDaniel said his concern is whether the PARCC assessment piece has been fully developed.
Ringstaff’s concerns are in the potential for Common Core to become a political platform.
“It has gotten so political, and it is going into an election year so people are making comments because of election year and not because of what is best for students, and I have a problem with that,” Ringstaff said. “I am not politicizing this. This is what is best for students.”