So far, teachers seem OK with Common Core


Honors physical science teacher Diane McDilda likes the Common Core teaching standards and how her classes are handling the instruction on Thursday at Buchholz High School in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.

The piece of education reform on everyone's lips these days is Common Core.

Adopted by the state Legislature in 2010, the Common Core State Standards is a more rigorous set of expectations for what students should learn at each grade level. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted it so far.

Initially touted by Gov. Rick Scott, the state's implementation of Common Core is now in limbo after Scott called for Florida to back out of a standardized test being developed with other Common Core states.

Since then, virtually every Florida lawmaker has chimed in either for or against the standards.

Tea party members, especially, have railed against it, calling Common Core a "liberal takeover" and "inferior" at public hearings state education officials held this week.

To date, the Department of Education has received more than 7,000 comments on Florida's English language and math standards.

But what do the teachers think?

Nine weeks into the first year of teaching the standards at every grade level, many teachers say instruction is going well.

"I kind of think we should've been doing it all along," said Diane McDilda, a physical science teacher at Buchholz High School.

McDilda, who was an engineering consultant before she became a teacher, said Common Core instruction does a better job of preparing students for the real world than previous standards.

A key difference between Common Core and the Sunshine State Standards, which Florida is moving away from, is the emphasis on literacy in non-English language arts classes and synthesizing information rather than memorizing concepts.

Under Common Core, students can expect to do a lot more writing in their science and social studies classes, for example.

During summer workshops, McDilda and other district science teachers learned how to incorporate more writing into their lessons.

Common Core doesn't have standards for science, so science classes still are tested with state standards, as in end-of-course testing, but there are opportunities to tie lessons from English classes into other classes, McDilda said.

Now, instead of writing simple lab reports in her class, students might have to write a proposal and a response letter.

McDilda said that's closer to how the real world of private industry works anyway, and the practice should make students more employable.

Some students resisted the changes at first, she said, but "I think they're up for it."

The new standards will make students better critical thinkers, McDilda said. "It's not tricky; you just have to think."

Teachers in the subjects that Common Core does measure — English language arts and math — aren't necessarily seeing huge changes in their curricula.

"I haven't had any difficulties at all," said Leota O'Malley, a ninth-grade English teacher at Gainesville High. "The Common Core standards for language arts are not that different from the Sunshine State Standards benchmarks."

There was confusion in the past about the English language standards.

Opponents of Common Core latched onto its suggestion that teachers incorporate more nonfiction texts into their curricula, taking that to mean that instructional texts would replace classics such as Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

In fact, that's false. Both texts are on the list of suggested readings for high schoolers, although teachers are not bound to those lists.

"We're still reading ‘Romeo and Juliet' this year, which is classic ninth-grade material," O'Malley said. The class will study non-fiction texts as well.

The only major change she said she noticed is that now teachers are encouraged to teach narrative writing. The Sunshine State Standards outlined only expository and persuasive writing, although teachers may teach concepts outside the scope of the standards.

O'Malley said she's incorporating narrative writing into her lessons already. The students are doing fine.

"I just don't see a big change," she said. "To me, the transition hasn't been that big."

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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