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Retired BCPS English Department Chair warns about Common Core

A Baltimore County retired teacher and English Department chairman gave a warning against Common Core at the BCPS Board Meeting on October 22, 2013. Below is her testimony in full.

Good evening, ladies and gentleman of the Board, I am Susan Costello, a retired middle and high school English teacher and chairman. I speak from experience when I implore you to listen to your parents and teachers concerning Common Core. Ignoring their questions speaks in a thunderous silence.

BCPS has been in an analogous situation in 1991, a long time ago but relevant to today. At my middle school’s first faculty meeting, we teachers learned that we were “off to imitate California” because we were “25 years behind the times in our middle school philosophy and educational goals and had to catch up.”

I raised my hand and asked, “If we’re 25 years behind the times, then there has to be some school systems that have data that show as a result of implementing this curricular approach, they have produced a better eighth grader? Does the county have data on school systems that have achieved success with this model? I heard the same reply, “We’re 25 years behind the times, and we need to catch up.”

I thought I didn’t ask the question correctly. I tried another approach, an analogy. “If we are going over the Sierra Madres in search of what is in California, has anyone scouted out the route to be sure that there is a safe trail so that we won’t fall off an unknown cliff?”

I heard the same reply, “We’re 25 years behind the times, and we need to catch up.”

Frustrated, I gave up. We teachers were not the decision-makers, so we had to implement a new watered-down student-centered curriculum rather than the former challenging content-centered curriculum. In 1999, state superintendent Nancy Grasmick created the Middle Learning Years Task Force. Its purpose was to improve what she called an “educational wasteland” in the middle schools. Finally, someone answered my question. We had wasted eight years; there was no improved 8th grader.

From my research, I have found only one state school system, Kentucky, that field tested the Common Core standards in 2010-11 and published disappointing results for the school year. Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday has stated that it would take “three to five years” for students to “catch up.”

Will we need this long to proclaim BCPC has achieved success using Common Core? Or are we Racing To The Top of a mountain of federal dollars that could create another academic wasteland in five or eight years? Is it necessary, because you weren’t in your current positions in 1991, to repeat the same errors again?

Please listen to your community of parents and teachers. They could very well have very legitimate concerns; and, even more importantly, they could be right. It’s happened before.

Please attend the Common Core Protest March on Monday Nov. 18 at the MSDE headquarters in Baltimore. See event flyer here.

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