By Michelle Hirsch
Is Common Core really in jeopardy or is it here to stay?
This seemed to be the No. 1 question posed to eight of the
East Valley’s top educators at Tempe’s annual State of the
The answer seemed clear: Common Core, despite any
political threats that may have emerged, won’t be going
away anytime soon.
That, at least, was the interpretation that came from the
top-tier educators who answered the question and others
during a nearly two-hour panel discussion, hosted by the
Tempe Chamber of Commerce.
While the participating educators won’t be the ones
to make the decision, consensus appeared to lean toward
Common Core being such an effective approach so far that
those at the state level who actually can decide its future
will be hard pressed to void it.
When asked about Common Core, accurately known
as the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, MCC
President Dr. Shouan Pan reminded attendees that these
were approved in 2010.
The good news, he said, is that students will be better
prepared than they are now as a result of the standards’
Pan, of MCC, reported that currently close to 60
percent of college-entry students test into one or more
college level remedial classes.
Jay Heiler, founder and chairman of Great Hearts
Academies and vice chairman of the Arizona Board of
Regents, added that much of the controversy regarding
Common Core focuses on the testing requirements and
evaluating teacher performance and pay based on test
Kyrene schools superintendent Dr. David Schauer
advocated taking politics out of the standards discussion.
He also noted that the new standards require a different
way of teaching and learning, where students are engaged
in working on problems, providing answers and presenting
their thinking process, which is different from the way
most adults learned in school.
Therefore, he said, the new approach can be confusing
and unclear, although more can still be done to inform and
garner support for the benefits of the new standards.
William Symonds, director of Global Pathways
Institute, said he feels that student engagement is
negatively affected by too much emphasis on testing in the
new system, an opinion supported by Christine Busch.
Busch, superintendent of the Tempe Elementary
district, praised students for their ability to adapt to the
new system and be resilient to the changes required.
She also praised teachers for the 10- to 12-hour
workdays, often 6-7 days a week, they have been required
to perform to create new lesson plans in alignment with the
Busch added that it would be discouraging to teachers
if the state scraps the standards after they and district staff
have worked for several years to align their lessons and
teaching methods, and are starting to see the benefits.
On other topics, TUHSD Superintendent Dr. Kenneth
Baca offered an explanation of how his district is helping
ensure Arizona students are the best in the nation, noting
that all six Tempe Union high schools have A ratings and
more National Merit finalists that any other district.
Beyond academic successes, the district is also
preparing students to value community service, Baca said,
adding that teachers deserve credit for what they do every
day for students.
Dr. Chris Bustamante, president of Rio Salado College,
highlighted what he termed the hundreds of thousands of
students trained at his institution each year while providing
affordable education options and programs.
Dr. Christine Wilkinson, senior vice president and
secretary of ASU, praised her boss, ASU President Michael
Crow, for his vision and implementation of restructuring
at ASU, thus increasing retention, graduation and student
Again, Tempe Elementary’s Busch shared examples
of ways her district is maximizing resources to educate
children to love learning and experience physical fitness,
music and arts, and to be prepared for furthering their
education at places like community colleges and ASU.
Symonds, of Global Pathways, said only 35 percent
of students who graduate high school are prepared for
college coursework, therefore emphasizing the need to
offer students multiple pathways to success to help ensure
that students understand how the content they’re learning
relates to careers.
He also reported that, with ratios like 800 students
to one high school advisement counselor, too few of the
students receive adequate advising to prepare them for
success beyond high school.
Schauer highlighted that the Kyrene district offers
several program options so that students will have many
pathways to their future academic success, noting however
that teaching and learning needs to be transformed to
better prepare students for their future.
Asked later about the greatest challenges facing
students, Baca responded that they need to see there is
a clear roadmap to college and career
opportunities. Schauer emphasized that
it is important to do whatever it takes to
address the needs of students to reduce the
When the panel was asked how
business leaders can best assist educators,
they agreed that business people need
to be advocates for education, with Pan
reminding attendees that students are the
future of Arizona.
He suggested mentoring students,
offering internships and employment
opportunities, or being among guest
lecturers as ways to get involved.
Heiler cautioned that education is not
utilitarian but rather an act of love from
one generation to the next, to make a
person fully human and able to succeed and
achieve his or her dreams.
Schauer highlighted the importance of
each person taking responsibility and not
being apathetic, noting that an education
community working with the business
community can make a difference in
Symonds suggested business people talk
to students, share how they started their
business or how they became successful in
He shared results of a Gallup study
showing that having a mentor and direct
work experience can make a significant
difference over grade-point average for
student success beyond graduation.
Busch and Wilkinson suggested
business people visit schools to observe the
learning that is happening in classrooms
today, and to share the information they
gained with others, spreading the word
about the good things taking place in
education and encouraging others to be
Bustamante emphasized the need
for elected representatives who support
education, and Baca agreed, stating the
importance of electing Governing Board
members and state legislators based on
merit, not politics.
Busch spoke of her concerns that
teachers are leaving the profession and
fewer college students are pursing teaching
as a career because of what she feels is
a punitive environment. Many teachers
believe they can earn more money and
respect in other professions.
Historically, said Busch, teachers
haven’t been paid a lot, but in recent years,
in addition to pay freezes and reductions,
they have also experienced increases health
insurance and retirement contributions,
and that considerably more time is required
on professional development and planning
without additional compensation.
Schauer emphasized the need to
transform the public education system
from the industrialized model — designed
to teach students basic literacy and prepare
them for labor jobs in factories, in a onesize-
fits-all, often dull, repetitive process
— to a 21st Century model that better
educates students with the skills they need
for future success in college and careers.
These include such areas as problemsolving,
critical-thinking, digital literacy
and collaboration, along with core
competencies in math, reading, writing,
science, PE, music and other fine arts.
By Michelle Hirsch