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Commentary: Lawmakers must let educators teach students

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Commentary: Lawmakers must let educators teach students
By Paul Hodges, For The Charleston Gazette

Here we go again! I was very distressed when I read in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph about Sen. Bill Cole’s intentions to continue pushing for repeal of the Common Core State Standards in West Virginia.

When I first began to talk to teachers concerning Common Core, or as it is known in West Virginia, Next Generation Standards, I heard a frequent refrain, “This is just one more fad that will come and go.”

For decades educators in America have seen a parade of reform movements started and then quickly abandoned for the next new thing before ever having a real chance to work. Teachers have justifiably become skeptical of any new effort. I truly believed and tried to assure teachers that this time it was different, but if Sen. Cole gets his way, here we go again.

Sen. Cole is rightly concerned about West Virginia’s 47th ranking; however, surely he can see that this is not new and not caused by Common Core. Politicians, in their zeal to reform education, often fail to realize that educational reform takes time. Mercer County has been working hard the past two years to provide our teachers the training and support needed to implement Common Core, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. Not only does it take time for teachers to be knowledgeable of, and comfortable with, new standards, but also on a more fundamental level it takes years for the accumulated benefits to students to work their way through the system.

Contrary to what many apparently believe, Common Core does not dictate or restrict teacher choice. Instead, it provides teachers more freedom to incorporate more science, social studies, etc. into their classes. Common Core has not eliminated math as we have known it, but rather added a call for a deeper understanding of the basic concepts behind traditional math. I am sure most will agree with Common Core’s restriction on the use of calculators in the early grades and on insisting that students learn math facts like the multiplication table by the third grade. I pray that everyone can agree with the Common Core Standards emphasis on reading comprehension, writing skills and deeper understanding.

As our students enter the world of the 21st century they will be facing competition not just from Mercer County or West Virginia, but the world. We must prepare our students for this fast changing world, we must educate them to be life-time learners. We must insure they can read difficult texts with deep comprehension and understand the basic concepts of math so they will be prepared for increasingly STEM-oriented professions.

Our students must be prepared to access, evaluate and analyze the vast amount of information available through the internet. We must prepare our students to work cooperatively and to communicate clearly as the world becomes ever smaller. This is what the Common Core State Standards can do.

I plead with all our representatives to please stay the course. Please give our educators the time to make Common Core work. Please Sen. Cole, be true to your conservative Republican principles and get big government off the backs of educators. Let educators decide what is best for their students, not politicians.

Paul Hodges, of Athens, taught high school for 44 years and is a member of the Mercer County Board of Education.