‘Pause’ on Common Core leaves teachers in limbo

A legislative decision to pause the rollout of new academic standards is leaving many Indiana teachers in limbo, wondering if they can implement new lesson plans they've spent more than two years creating to meet the standards.

The standards known as Common Core were developed by a national group of state school officials and have been adopted by 45 states. They emphasize students' analytical reading and writing skills in all subjects.

Indiana adopted the standards in 2010 and is already using the standards in its kindergarten and first-grade classes. The state had planned to use them in all grades starting in the 2014-15 school year.

But lawmakers voted last month to delay full implementation to allow time to study the potential costs of implementing or abandoning the standards and hold public meetings.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who signed that bill into law on Saturday, said in a statement that the law "hits the pause button on Common Core so Hoosiers can thoroughly evaluate which standards will best serve the interests of our kids."

The legislative measure has left many teachers uncertain how to proceed, Greenwood director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim told the Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/13fy4Kg ).

"There's no such thing as a pause. It's like slamming on the brakes real, real hard," Ahlgrim said.

Ahlgrim said math teachers don't know whether the lessons they've created, which include more word problems requiring students to explain why an answer isn't correct, can still be used.

Whiteland Community High School interim principal John Schilawski said he is worried that switching from one set of standards to another will confuse younger students learning to read. The Common Core-based lessons used in kindergarten and first grade are based heavily on nonfiction works so that children can start learning how to read and think analytically.

"Education is a constant, ongoing process. To make sudden starts and stops to things always has a rippling effect. Somewhere, some child or group of children will feel the effect of uncertainty that's being caused by legislative indecision," Schilawski said.

Common Core requires teachers to include reading and writing in their lessons and assignments, even in courses such as math and science that typically haven't asked students to write essays detailing their answers.

Critics maintain that Indiana's own school standards were better and that adoption of the Common Core has cost the state control over its education expectations.

Some also worry that the standards are making math courses too complicated and will cause students' scores to drop, while others are concerned that the emphasis on analytical reading will mean students spend less time reading classic works of fiction. But supporters say the standards teach students to think critically and to apply what's learned in one subject to another area.

Ahlgrim said dropping the Common Core standards would cost schools the ability to collaborate with others around the country and could make it difficult to find current textbooks and other teaching materials.

"It'll just be Indiana with our own standards. And I don't know why we would want to be isolated like that," he said.

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