Group of Cabell teachers shows support for Common Core

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Group of Cabell teachers shows support for Common Core
By Lacie Pierson, The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON — A typically simple measure for the Cabell County Board of Education became the catalyst for a political debate regarding Common Core standards last week.

A group of teachers, who were part of a textbook selection committee, voiced their support for the standards when the debate boiled up during a discussion about a measure to adopt Reading/Language Arts textbooks for the county’s elementary schools during the regular board meeting on May 5.

It was the first time any substantial conversation about the standards had taken place at a board meeting since the end of the regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, and it was the first time any of the county’s teachers participated in the conversation during a public meeting.

The debate began when Board Member Karen Nance questioned whether it was cost-effective to purchase instructional material that adhered to the Common Core standards when they were so at-risk of being repealed.

“I still have concerns as to whether or not we’re going to stay with those standards, and that’s a lot of money,” Nance said.

The board eventually passed a measure adopting the instructional materials to the tune of $740,744.53, which included textbooks as well as digital platforms to accompany them.

Per state law, West Virginia’s school districts must adopt instructional materials that align with at least 80 percent of educational standards, said Dr. Jeff Smith, assistant superintendent of school improvement.

As of the time of the textbook adoption, an event that takes place about every eight or nine years per subject, those standards were the Common Core or Next Generation, as they were adopted in West Virginia.

While the standards were issued by the federal government, Smith noted it was optional for each state as to whether they would adopt the standards, but he said the creation of Common Core was the standardization of practices that already were being utilized throughout the country.

“Ultimately, we’ve found most of the states across the country, if you went through and looked, were teaching around the same thing,” Smith said. “The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics was where we went before looking at content standards. We went to the English Teachers Association. We went to social studies, science … all of those organizations would set out the standards they believed everyone should be following. We didn’t have such a coordinated effort to have the same standards, but we all did have about the same.”

Smith said that in the event the standards were repealed, teachers would have to supplement their materials to accommodate the new standards, noting that it would take at least two years for new standards to be developed and adopted throughout the state.

“If they went in and tried to make changes and included teachers in it, we’re confident teachers would leave most of what’s there,” Smith said. “The one thing that’s been left out of this is the teachers getting their voice because our teachers generally like the Next Generation content standards and like what’s there.

“What we find in those textbooks is good teaching. It’s good teaching no matter what you want to call it.”

As Nance continued to express her concerns in the matter, Smith, along with the five teachers and central office employee who served on the textbook committee, expressed their support of the standards in an effort to make clear their decisions in selecting the text.

 Brenda Parsons, a second-grade teacher at Culloden Elementary School, was the first teacher to rise in support of the textbooks and what they had to offer in terms of supporting the standards.

Teaching second grade puts Parsons in the position to help students develop foundational skills of reading and writing and how they work together.

“They’re very rich in foundational skills … and that is an element we are missing, not only in Cabell County. We’re missing it in West Virginia as well as our nation,” Parsons said. “That’s what third grade needs, that’s what 12th grade needs. … Students are graduating from high school and going to college, and they can’t read college textbooks because they don’t have foundational skills, and that begins in the primary level.”

The other five committee members eventually walked to the front of the board meeting room in support of Parsons, and Rachael Berry, a first-grade teacher at Cox Landing Elementary School, shared her support for the textbooks because of what they have to offer in terms of meeting the five pillars of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency vocabulary and comprehension.

“It boils down to what’s best for our students, and that is best for our students,” Berry said.

Nance ended the conversation by saying she hadn’t meant for the conversation to become political, and she said she appreciated the teachers’ passion about the standards.

“I know people don’t like to get political, but this is a political thing,” Nance said. “You’re going to have to get political to say what you really feel to the people who are trying to change it.”