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April 9, 2013

Show Me Why We Need This!

Pattee Brown

This year a new standard of teaching will be implemented by Frederick County Public Schools called Common Core Curriculum. Maryland was one of the first states in the nation to adopt this new curriculum back in 2011.


The majority of people in our community have no idea what effects this change will have on our education system.


What is most alarming is the secrecy with which this massive change has been handled regarding public information. Given the fact that Maryland, upon learning of the national initiative in 2010, was one of the first states to adopt the change, it would make sense that the citizens of Maryland would, by now, be amply aware of what this program is, why we are implementing it and what its impact will be.


Yet, surprisingly, most people in our community, even those with children in schools, only know “of” the program, and know little about what it is actually going to mean to our children, and to our teachers.


On the website, entitled School Improvement in Maryland, Mary Cary, who is the assistant state superintendent and leading the Division of Instruction at the Maryland State Department of Education, explained the process of transitioning to Maryland's new curriculum.


"We are bringing together approximately 6,000 educators from across Maryland to engage in professional development that will prepare them to make the transition to the new curriculum. Every school in the state brings a team that includes the principal, an English Language Arts/reading teacher, a math teacher, and a STEM teacher. Five members of each system's central office staff also participate."


There have been 24 months in which the state, or frankly, even the Frederick County Board of Education could have created a public information campaign to help parents and community leaders understand the impact of this program. While it is common knowledge that the United States is struggling to keep up with other countries in the way we approach education – and the skill levels with which our students graduate in areas such as math and science – it is not common knowledge how this new curriculum, and it’s extremely aggressive changes are going to help that problem. It is also really unclear what the fall out of these changes will be.


For example, given that Maryland is one of the highest-rated education states in the Union, one might assume that we would be unaffected by these curriculum changes; but, in fact, that is completely untrue. Due to these new guidelines and the new text books teachers will be required to use, our current way of teaching will be much disrupted. These changes will have a huge impact on the way our children learn and the levels they are able to reach. Even our Magnet programs that engage our most academically extraordinary students will be negatively affected.


The financial ramifications of this program are also disturbing. While education is and should be our highest priority, it should still be implemented in a fiscally responsible way and definitely dealt with at the local level where local elected officials can determine what is and isn’t financially feasible.


Apparently millions of dollars of federal money would have been kept from Maryland if we didn’t adopt this program. That kind of political game reeks of extortion and frankly, offends the very nature of our education system. What’s even more ironic is the possibility that the program will cost us more locally to implement than the money we receive from the federal government covers anyway.


It’s true that Frederick County did vote against adopting the curriculum, but the majority of counties in the state voted in favor and therefore we did move forward.


But again, this really begs the questions…


Why hasn’t there been a huge public information campaign about this program for the past two years?


Why haven’t there been newspaper headlines on a regular basis outlining exactly what we have gotten ourselves into?


Why hasn’t the board of education done outreach programs for their constituents describing in detail what this is going to mean to all of us?


Why haven’t they met with the other counties in the state, especially those who voted yes, to better understand why they would be in favor of such a drastic decision?


Is this program a bad decision? I am not an educator and won’t pretend to know the answer. But as a community member and relatively intelligent, I will say it sounds suspect at best. It’s complicated and ill planned to say the least.


There are a million questions that need to be answered, and frankly, until they are answered to our satisfaction, let’s express our independence and say hell no! We are one of the top five rated states in education and we’re not changing a thing until we know more.


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