Parents question learning standards

JOHNSTOWN – Questions and comments from the public about subjects ranging from kindergarten homework to expanded personal databases punctuated the Greater Johnstown School District’s Common Core informational session Thursday night at Johnstown High School.

About 75 people attended the two-hour session about the state Education Department’s new Common Core learning standards for classrooms across New York state. District Superintendent Robert DeLilli and Director of Curriculum, Testing and Personnel Patricia Kilburn moderated the program.

The first half was the administrators explaining Common Core – new standards for English Language Arts and math written by educators across the United States and adopted by New York state in 2010. About 15 members of the public spoke later.

DeLilli explained new math standards involve less concepts, greater depth and applying skills to the “real world.” The ELA focus includes reading for information, increasing reading complexity in texts and citing evidence.

“What we’re doing is not getting kids [currently] where they need to be,” DeLilli said.

He said state modules want kindergartners to ask and answer questions about key details in text, fifth-graders to accurately quote and explain text, eighth-graders to cite textual evidence and upper classmen to support analysis about what text says.

“The modules are causing a lot of chit-chat and conversations,” Kilburn said.

She told parents their children may be solving problems in a different way than they did. She said Common Core teaches educators to be “persistent.”

“We are hearing good things,” Kilburn said. “It is hard.”

But during the public portion, many parents expressed frustration and concerns about Common Core. Attendees were not required to give their names and several declined to give them to the The Leader-Herald after the session.

One woman said she was concerned about her child’s grades going down and too much homework being given to the students.

“Your teachers are trying to lighten that load,” Kilburn said.

Other attendees asked about what they hear is an intense, 400-point process of student data collection and numerical identification by the state during one of the phases of Common Core. The main concern was how the state will maintain the integrity of the personal information, which may not be secure.

Additional concerns included questions and comments about differing curriculums, inability by kindergartners to have social time and snacks if too busy doing math and worksheets, and whether the self-esteem of the older students will be lowered if they don’t keep up with Common Core standards.

“In kindergarten, it really needs to be play-based learning,” one woman said.

One woman said the state Education Department was “reckless” in its rollout of Common Core. A man who identified himself as in his 50s, predicted Common Core will go the way of students being taught the “metric system,” which he labeled a failed educational experiment from several years ago.