The Times
  • New curriculum has instructors doing their homework

  • This is a big school year — bigger than any in recent memory.


    The first day of school in September also will be the first day the new Common Core curriculum is taught.

    • email print
  • This is a big school year — bigger than any in recent memory.
    The first day of school in September also will be the first day the new Common Core curriculum is taught.
    Forty-five states have agreed to adopt the curriculum, which rethinks everything about how students are taught.
    Experts, teachers and school leaders from around the nation designed the Common Core by looking at how other countries teach their students who perform better than those in the United States.
    To get ready for the new standards, approximately 30 teachers filled the library of Herkimer Elementary School last Tuesday, preparing for the start of classes next month.
    “It’s less topics, more quality,” said Mary Jo Morrissey, a kindergarten teacher from the Little Falls City School District. “We have more time to go into it in depth.”
    Morrissey sat with fellow kindergarten teachers thumbing through worksheets and trying to figure out what it all means.
    Sarah Indermill, a coordinator of instructional support services for the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES, has trained on the ins and outs of the Common Core and ran Tuesday’s session.
    “It’s a lot of work for them,” Indermill said, gesturing to the teachers. “The big thing for them is taking what (teaching materials are) available to them and determining what they can keep.”
    Teaching reading in the Common Core means using more difficult books at each grade level and making sure half of the time is used teaching informational texts.
    For example, adults in the workplace read for information, not leisure, and they have to take that information and figure out how to apply it to their work.
    With Common Core, students will have to read for information, present an argument and be able to back up their conclusions with facts.
    In math, students don’t get into fractions until the secondary level, sticking with whole numbers. Fractions come later, with the understanding that fractions are critical to algebra.
    “It dares to eliminate a lot of what we’re doing and focus on the math that matters the most,” Herkimer BOCES Superintendent Mark Vivacqua said. “In my 30 years I’ve never been more enthusiastic about the direction the state is heading.”
    Indermill said the new way of teaching means fewer lectures from teachers and more small-group work where students help each other out.
    “It’s putting more emphasis on what the student’s doing and more facilitating,” she said. “I think the big change is allowing the student to make the learning connection themselves.”
    Teachers will have to rewrite all their lesson plans for the year to accommodate the new curriculum. Indermill said she’s suggesting they write two units before school starts, see what works and what doesn’t, and go from there.
    Page 2 of 2 - The cost for the switchover to the new curriculum is expected to be expensive, aided slightly by President Barack Obama’s federal Race to the Top dollars.
    According to the state Education Department, $26 million of the $700 million the state received from the program has been budgeted for professional development and training.
    Each district had to apply to the state for its part of the $700 million. Local applications ranged from just over $13,000 for the Town of Webb Union Free School District to more than $2 million for the region’s largest school system, the Utica City School District, meaning districts really are bearing the burden of Common Core switch.
    Those costs range from new textbooks — for just K-6 math it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars — to paying a teacher to attend a session such as the one hosted by Indermill.
    “There isn’t one leader on any level that isn’t really committed to this,” Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES Superintendent Howard Mettleman said. “When you look at this in the wake of an unfunded mandate, it’s staggering.”
    In May, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, released a report called “Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core.”
    That report estimates that implementation can range from $198 million to $853 million, depending on whether the state goes the traditional textbook-and-paper test route or takes advantage of open-source materials and online tests or a balance of both.
    If anything is worth it, this is, Vivacqua said.
    “It’s a lot of money, absolutely a lot of money,” he said.
    For all of Herkimer County it means one percent of the tax levy, or $500,000 over the next couple of years.
    “(But) people should be thinking about what the cost is to our economy if we don’t do this,” Vivacqua said. “If we have to make investment, this is where it needs to be made.”