By Geoff Kieburtz
A recent Board of Education meeting provided an excellent demonstration of the tremendous potential the Norwalk Public School System has to become a model of excellence. During the public comments, several members of the community voiced emotional criticism of the school system. The points made ranged from accusations of mismanagement to perceived mistreatment of individual students.
More striking than the specific issues was the intensity of emotion. Several regular attendees at BoE meetings called it one of the more confrontational meetings they could remember. The meeting was recessed to allow tempers to cool.
Following the recess, several teachers and administrators presented what they learned at a meeting about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Along with 44 other states, Connecticut has voluntarily adopted the CCSS and plans to implement these standards in the 2014-2015 school year. The standards were developed by teams of educators, many of whom were at the meeting attended by our local teachers and administrators.
The essence of the CCSS is to educate our students more deeply in a specific range of topics. Nationally, our public education systems have steadily broadened the range of topics being taught but not expanded the time available for instruction. The predictable result is an education that is “a mile wide and an inch deep”.
The CCSS seeks to reverse this long trend by focusing on educating the core knowledge that every student should master, starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school.
It is not an exaggeration to say that adoption of the CCSS is the most dramatic change in our public education system in a generation. When fully embraced, the CCSS will:
- Bring consistency of grade level instruction across our system,
- Ensure alignment of preparation and expectations for each grade, and
- Raise the quality of education for every student in the system.
However, the CCSS are not a “plug and play” solution to the challenges of public education. The CCSS simply contain standards that will be used to assess what each student has learned and, by implication, the quality of the instruction received. It is the local school district’s responsibility to develop the curriculum and instructional processes to educate students to these standards. This is a major project that will require concerted and sustained effort for the next three years and beyond.
The commitment to the transition to the CCSS is one to be taken seriously and will require many facets of support. GE Capital, in addition to sponsoring the meeting attended by our local educators, has funded seven development sites for the development of CCSS curriculum. Representatives from Stamford and New York City (two of the GE Capital sponsored sites) attended the meeting as well.
Curriculum development has been going on in Stamford and New York City for more than three years. In addition to funding our educators’ attendance at the meeting, GE is considering support for the Norwalk Public School system to facilitate its own efforts to prepare for CCSS adoption.
There is no cure-all solution to the challenges facing public education – in general or the NPS specifically. However, preparation for the CCSS creates an outstanding opportunity to make great strides in raising expectations and closing the achievement gap.
The State of Connecticut has already committed to the CCSS. There is no debate about what or when. It is up to each school district to determine how it will respond. It is up to the Norwalk community, working together with the school system, to ensure that we take full advantage of the opportunity.
The power of the CCSS was most clearly illustrated by the response of the most vocal members of the public at the BoE meeting. As our educators made their excellent presentation of the substance behind the CCSS and the work needed to be ready, these community members were engaged and supportive.
If the emotion and energy that was so vehemently expressed at the beginning of the meeting can be channeled toward positive change, Norwalk Public Schools can become a model for others to follow.