To Adopt or Not To Adopt?

The 2013-2014 is the year of implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) for high schools throughout New York State.  To that end, private entities have been hired to write curricula for English and Math.  The written curriculum is supposed to map to the CCLS.  The curriculum has been divided into “modules” for English 9, Algebra, and Geometry.  Beginning with the summer of 2013, the first modules for Algebra were released to the public, which now include teachers and administrators.  Educators are not involved in writing these modules, which represents a break from past practice in New York.  In the past, educators had a direct influence on the development of the learning standards as well as the creation of the curriculum.  Now that educators are divorced from the process, schools are placed in a position to wait for these modules to be written and released and then determine how they should be implemented.  Modules in English and Geometry are still being written, a process the State Education Department (SED) describes as “building the plane in the air.”  The video SED staff developers showed to illustrate this phenomenon can be found here.

The SED offers individual school districts three choices regarding the implementation of the English and Math Common Core Curriculum and the subsequent modules: adopt, adapt, or ignore.  Educators all over the state are downloading individual modules from the web site and assessing how these modules should be implemented.  Some school districts are also in the position of assessing whether there are enough funds to purchase materials, such as videos, books, and document cameras.

At Clarkstown North High School, we have begun adopting and adapting the modules in Algebra.  Since the English modules were released as the academic year started, English teachers just recently assessed the Romeo and Juliet module.  To that end, we have decided that beginning in January 2014 one-third of English 9 teachers will fully adopt the Romeo and Juliet module as written by SED approved vendors, the second third will adapt the modules, and the final third of the English 9 staff will ignore the modules and teach Romeo and Juliet as in the past using the 2005 State Learning Standards.  The Romeo and Juliet module can be accessed here.  Our goal is to collect data during this process to assess which implementation method works better for North students: adopt, adapt, or ignore.  Formative and summative data will be collected in each class.  Trained observers will collect evidence that will focus on questioning and discussion techniques, student engagement, communication and interaction, and the internalization of expectations.  Summative data will encompass student performance on quizzes, tests, and written assignments.

The “building the plane in the air” method suggested by the SED fails basic policymaking tenets, which demand that any new policy be piloted, tested, and evaluated before being implemented.  I am confident that our approach, which is based on sound policymaking principles, will help us assess how to proceed with the new Common Core Curriculum at Clarkstown North.  Before making the decision to adopt, adapt, or ignore it is imperative that a decision is based on some data.  We are excited with this approach, and we look forward to examining and analyzing the findings from classes.  We will also involve student feedback in our decision to whether adopt, adapt, or ignore.

College & Career Readiness

With the implementation of New York State’s Common Core Curriculum, there has been much discussion and debate over the concept “college and career readiness.”  Some statisticians claim it can be predicted whether a child is “college and career ready” based (in part) on the student’s ability to answer multiple choice questions correctly.  As an example, some of the vocabulary words a first grader may encounter are “ziggurat” and “cuneiform.”  Award winning high school principal, Dr. Carol Burris, of South Side High School in Rockville Centre writes about issues with the Common Core Curriculum in this blog, which appeared in The Washington Post.  The blog can be accessed here.

The concept of “college and career readiness” has been on my mind recently since in mid-November, Newsweek magazine released its list of “America’s Best High Schools” for preparing students for college and careers.  Clarkstown High School North had the honorary distinction of being 380 in the entire nation.  This ranking was focused on how effective schools are in turning out college-ready graduates.  Six components were considered: graduation rate, college acceptance rate, AP/IB tests taken per student, average SAT/ACT scores, average AP/IB scores, and the number of students enrolled in at least one AP/IB.  The article can be accessed here.  When I review school-wide results, Clarkstown North students outperform their peers in the nation and in New York State on the SAT, SAT II, ACT, AP, and IB exams.

Despite these overwhelmingly positive results, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) is mandating changes to get students “college and career ready.”  This can be quite confusing since one indicator states that Clarkstown North students are outperforming many of their peers.  Yet, according to NYSED, all students must be on par with their global counterparts.  When I presented my dilemma to the chair of the New New York State Education Reform Commission, Richard Parsons (retired chair of Citigroup) stated to me that more schools should be like Clarkstown North and perform at our level of achievement.  Although I thanked him for his recognition, I wondered why, then, the NYSED is mandating changes to a school system that not only works, but also, outperforms?

Though I do not know the answer, what I do know is that our faculty provide the best level of teaching possible, and our school offers an academically challenging program that is unparalleled in mid and lower Hudson Valley.  I am proud of our students, teachers, and staff, and I hope that we can improve upon our continued successes.

In the meantime, I would like to wish the Clarkstown High School North community a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.