Sunday, April 7, 2013

Are We Willing to See Opportunity in Change?

Over the next two weeks, children in grades three through eight will be taking new State assessment tests based on Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of several reforms that seem to be converging on schools all at once.  The stress of these tests along with the continual debate about the validity and use of each assessment makes it nearly impossible to separate the good from the bad and the ugly. 

As far as the Common Core initiative, let’s ask ourselves:
  • Is it beneficial for students to be able to move from zip code to zip code or state to state, without falling behind their peers? 
  • Is it beneficial to build a skill base that is applicable to real world experience and prepares our children to compete in a global economy? 
PTA believes that it is because the “Common Core” is both evidence-based and speaks directly to our mission to provide every child a level playing field in order to reach his/her potential. At a time when technology and innovation are eliminating borders between competing countries, how can we not be open to that same evolution in how we approach education reform?  

From its onset, NYS PTA members and parents have expressed their concerns regarding the CCSS initiative, such as whether there will be a narrowing of curriculum, the loss of the essence of the whole child, or the loss of academic freedom, whether it will appropriately address all abilities. Others voice concern about whether decisions are being made by those who actually know and have experience in the K-12 classroom, and about how students/educators are held accountable when many factors beyond the schoolhouse walls can and do impact student success. 

It’s been said that you have to live the questions to find the answers. While there are valid concerns regarding reform, we must also ask ourselves:
  • Is it easier to criticize change than recognize the reason for it?  
  • Is it more productive to rail against the process or to be a part of it?  
  •  How do we develop parameters to measure student growth without a starting baseline? 
  • Which is the wiser expenditure of energy: fighting to maintain what we know and what feels comfortable or opening ourselves to change and help our children and educators navigate safely, confidently through the turbulent waters? 
  • Do we want our children to be able to think creatively and globally and take advantage of the wealth of information that’s right at their fingertips?   
In the end we must acknowledge that success will be best realized by those who know how to be creative in accessing and applying that information creatively.   If this is the goal of the Common Core approach how can we not work collaboratively to verify that this is indeed what is needed, what will work, and what will best ensure that every child receives a world class education taught by world class educators? 
Change is hard and we know it often happens in the extreme.  This will be our experience under current education reform efforts -- transition is and will be anything but easy. But let’s also be realistic about how we assess where we stand at the moment. While perhaps not so in all communities, as a state and nation:

  • we are continually being faulted for falling behind the standard of our past educational achievements, especially in comparison with other economically developed countries;
  • we do have a transition problem when students, especially children of military families, transfer between locales;
  • we are providing remediation to one-third of high school graduates who are unprepared for college;
  • we are challenged by growing numbers of economically disadvantaged and non-English speaking families.

But children of every one of these populations deserve our best efforts. They deserve a level playing field that will prepare them to prosper in a global economy.  Our best efforts are not advanced by being adversarial but instead by being collaborative. Only then will we find the answers to the questions being lived.   

So, rather than seeing education reform as hard, let’s broaden our perspective to view reform as a means of opportunity and hope for every child.  While there may be flaws in the process, let’s offer solutions in place of complaints. The final question to ask ourselves:  Isn’t the potential worthy of the challenge?

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!