Politics & Government

Schools eye Common Core

Washington state is one of a majority of states moving toward adoption of common learning goals for students, and educators here are hosting a series of public meetings to gather feedback on the idea.

A meeting in Tacoma tonight is one of five around the state talking about Washington’s possible adoption of what are known as Common Core State Standards. The gathering is sponsored by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The standards, which would be the same in each state that adopts them, would define what students need to know and do in math and language arts at each grade level.

“They are not dictating curriculum,” said Jessica Vavrus, the state’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “They don’t tell states how to teach, or what can or should be taught.”

Instead, the Common Core movement seeks to set common targets. The idea is to ensure that all American kids – no matter where in the country they live – graduate prepared for college and the work force.

For example, one language arts standard states that first-graders should be able to write about two or more events, include a few details about what happened, and communicate the correct time order of the events. By the time they are in their final two years of high school, the language arts standards say, students should be able to draw on texts and other research so that they can participate in a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

The goal of Core Standards, said Vavrus, is to establish a system that would allow a first-grader from Atlanta to move to first grade in Tacoma without major disruption to his or her education.

“Now, we have 50 states with 50 standards,” Vavrus said. “That alone is a complicating factor for our kids.”

Like other states, Washington already has its own learning standards. One analysis comparing our standards to Common Core found that more than 84 percent of our language arts standards align to some extent with Common Core. In math, it’s about 85 percent.

Washington is one of 48 states, two U.S. territories and the District of Columbia that agreed to consider adoption of the standards. In July, state schools chief Randy Dorn provisionally adopted the learning goals. But formal adoption won’t occur until the 2011 Legislature has a chance to review them.

Meanwhile, Washington is working with 30 other states to develop new tests that reflect the Core Standards.

While critics of Common Core have said it amounts to the federalization of local education, supporters disagree.

The federal government did not develop the standards, but states’ willingness to adopt them did play a part in whether states were awarded federal funding during the recent Race to the Top competition. (Washington was not a finalist for the funds.)

The Common Core initiative has been led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Vavrus said teachers and national experts, along with state education departments, had a chance to weigh in during the writing of the standards.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo @thenewstribune.com

Tacoma Forum tonight

What: Common Core State Standards public forum.

When: 6 tonight.

Where: Tacoma Public Schools Board Room, Central Administration Building, 601 S. Eighth St.

More online: You can take an online survey at www.k12.wa.us. Click “Common Core Standards” on the home page and follow the links.

You can also watch an online seminar on the subject, also at www.k12.wa.us. Click on “Common Core Standards” on the home page and follow the links. You can register for a Oct. 28 webinar, or watch a previous presentation.