Teachers in local districts are excited about the new common core standards and preparing as quickly as they can for their implementation.
“It’s a bit like changing the tire when the car is rolling at 65 miles an hour,” said teacher Shari Robinson, on re-tooling curriculum to meet new standards adopted by New York in 2010 and 43 other states to date. "But the changes, like having students explore topics more in-depth, are good."
The initiative is not without its challenges—time to plan, for one. While students vacationed, Katonah Lewisboro teachers spent their winter break working on applying the new standards to existing curricula and in Bedford, planning is also
Schools are also busy implementing other academic initiatives including the and the model.
"Any teacher worth their salt will tell you they need time to think differently about their teaching and how to modify or identify new instructional materials," said Drew Patrick, Bedford Central's assistant superintendent of instruction. Schools were require this year to teach two units at each grade level to the new standards, which will be completely rolled out by fall 2013.
In both districts, administrators emphasized that their own standards in some cases exceed the minimum established by the common core and the new framework provides ample opportunity for local flexibility.
"The common core builds on where we are," said Cristy Harris, LES principal, at a recent presentation to parents. "There’s a lot of room for us to determine how those standards to fit the students we are teaching here."
Impact in the classroom
Gwen Kopeinig, who worked alongside Robinson over the winter break, said instruction will be accelerated. "In math, for example, students will be expected to master their multiplication facts by the third grade," she said. Teachers will spend less them "modeling" and more time encouraging student persistence finding solutions, helping them to break down the problem and try again.
Fewer topics will be covered, but units will be taught with a deeper focus, said Harris. For example, the district's Everyday Math program currently "spirals" from topic to topic but now teachers will intensively cover a unit such as measurement or fractions before moving on.
The English-language arts standards place a new emphasis on students reading informational texts and dictate that 50 percent be non-fiction works.
But that doesn't mean ELA teachers can't teach fiction, said Patrick.
"The core explicitly acknowledges the shared responsibility of all teachers in the school regarding literacy," he said. "So science and social studies teachers are also teaching reading, writing, speaking and listening—and their work has a heavy emphasis on non-fiction. So there is room for both."
Harris told parents that the Fundations program would continue to be used in classrooms but report cards would need to change to reflect new performance indicators. Schools are examining classroom materials, library inventory and supplemental magazine subscriptions to provide a wider array of reading sources. "We're on the learning curve with everyone else," she said.
Kopeinig agreed, simultaneously exhibiting both the energy and concern that changes can bring.
"Change takes time," said Kopeinig. "The newness of this cannot be overemphasized."