Education leaders examine Common Core, state funding at summit

Instead of filling in Scan-tron bubbles, Arizona K-12 students are likely to be more hands-on with English language arts and math to prove they’re worthy of a high school diploma.
The state’s education curriculum is going through a sea change in hopes of giving students the relevant skills and critical thinking abilities that will grab the attention of future employers.
A number of school superintendents, business leaders and education specialists gathered April 24 to discuss the state’s adoption of Common Core standards as well as the inner workings of state education funding and how districts and charters vie for dollars.
The education summit, hosted by the Tempe/Kyrene Business Advisory Council, also aimed to mobilize education leaders to further inform parents about these new changes to ease worries about these coming shifts.
Arizona’s new Common Core standards, adopted in June 2010, instills a more rigorous and integrated learning process for students, said Dr. David Schauer, superintendent of the Kyrene Elementary School District.
“We’re still learning discreet skills in isolation of each other,” Schauer said. “When we put them all together, we have an application of the learning. We are no longer confining ourselves to rote responses and filling in the bubble sheets.”
Cathleen Barton, education manager at Intel Corp., explained that Arizona is likely to slowly phase out the AIMS test in favor of Common Core standards, which emphasizes non-routine interaction with subject matter and the analytic, critical thinking skills that employers demand.
“We’re asking [students] for high-levels of cognitive ability,” Barton said.
“This is where the world has shifted in terms of jobs, especially for those that support a pathway to the middle class.”
Some have criticized Common Core for being a national or federal effort, which Barton said was an incorrect assumption. The standards were devised by 46 states and were benchmarked by other countries’ standards.
The shift to Common Core is being implemented just as standardized testing is on its last legs in Arizona. Gov. Jan Brewer is likely to a sign a bill that would do away with the AIMS test as a requirement for high school graduation and would slowly phase out its use in lower grades.
Schauer said the integrated application of class content also means big changes to teaching techniques.
“This is the way teachers really want to teach,” he said. “The content is available through technology and other means, so we really need to be having groups of our students solve problems and be there to move the learning along.”
Also presenting at the summit was Dr. Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, who broke down the funding numbers for charter and public schools to see which groups were truly receiving more funding, a major point of contention for education leaders.
Essigs concluded that both groups have financial advantages: public school districts receive less money from states than charters, but also receive more in federal dollars, bonds and overrides.
However, one bit of conventional wisdom still rings true: Arizona continues to hang at the bottom of the list in state education spending per student, he said.

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