Metro Detroit schools following common core standards

Some educations think newer English, math standards are good idea, others concerned about long-term impact

School districts in metro Detroit will be teaching using the common core standards when children return to school, but lawmakers in Lansing are still weighing whether to spend any more money implementing the standards.

The common core standards outline the English and math skills students need to learn to be career and college ready. 

They were voluntarily adopted by 45 states including Michigan in 2010.

Since then, school districts have been implementing common core.

Gov. Rick Snyder and several in the business and education communities have expressed their support for common core.

But Republicans in Lansing blocked future funding for common core standards earlier this year. 

If they don't vote to put more money towards it, funding for the standards will stop in October.

Critics of common core worry it will adopting the standards will lead to the state losing decision-making control over curriculum.

Dearborn Public Schools has been working with its teachers on how to implement common core standards into their English and math classes.

Jamie McShane followed them to teach her first-graders math during the last school year. From day one, she taught her students that they are all mathematicians.

"As a mathematician sometimes we get it wrong, that doesn't mean you're bad at math, it just means we need to try a different strategy," said McShane. "With the common core, some of the changes in that are that the kids are doing more problem solving and in first grade we are focusing a lot of addition and subtraction."

Common Core standards will apply to students in grades K-12.

The Michigan Department of Education said common core standards are not curriculum.  

The standards outline for each grade the English and math skills students should have, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach.

Common Core is considered more rigorous by some because it makes students reason out problems rather than memorize information.

"When they solve problems they can just go to wherever the tools are and grab those and use those to solve them, instead of coming to the teacher and saying 'I don't know what to do can you help me,'" said McShane.

"It's not what we grew up on, where we're applying an algorithm and just getting an answer," said Terri Faitel, the district math coordinator in Dearborn. "The problems that are posed to kids now from the Common Core, there might be so many multiple steps that the kids have to use in order to get to the answer. There can be a different variety of ways that the kids go about answering those questions."

Faitel said common core changes the way kids learn, not what they learn.

Michigan school districts, like Dearborn, began teaching with Common Core when the state adopted the standards in 2010. Schools will begin testing students on the standards in 2015.

"The common core is just making kids, empowering them to understand that they can solve problems, " said Faitel. "It doesn't have to be an answer in the book or an answer from the teacher. So they are learning so much more about how they can produce answers themselves."

"It's really focusing on mastery of the basics," said McShane.

McShane said under common core, teachers will not have to pack in as much information.

"We're getting a deeper understanding into those standards that the kids need to know," said McShane.

But critics of common core worry that a national standard might "dumb down" the education system and take away decision making power from the local district level.

"Common Core is going to make for common students and common workers and put American in a situation where we cannot compete any longer in the global market," said Dr. William Skilling.

Dr. Skilling is the superintendent at Oxford Community Schools. Skilling said his district is implementing the common core standards, but he believes schools need to hold themselves to higher ethical standards and protect programs outside the core. Skilling worries that common core will standardize what's important in education and marginalize other programs like the athletics, arts, languages, and stem programs that promote science and engineering.

"You can't measure on a standardized test a students ability to work with a group as a member of a team in a collaborative way that is taking on a challenge that they're unfamiliar with and being able to create and innovate," said Skilling.

Whether you are for or against the common core standards, parents can definitely expect to see changes in how their children learn.

"You're going to see a lot of writing in math," said Faitel. "You're going to see technology enhancing their instruction."

After a year of teaching math under common core standards, McShane is excited about the progress her students have made.

"At first it's much more challenging when they're not used to that," said McShane. "So kids would cry or they'd break down or shut down. Now it's amazing they don't do that anymore because they have these strategies."

With the use of common core standards, changes will be implemented to how students are tested.  The MEAP test will eventually be replaced with a new assessment that focuses on testing common core.  That will officially happen the spring of 2015.

If you would like to learn more about the common core standards, click here.

To see what the Michigan Department of Education says about the common core, click here.

There is a final committee meeting in Lansing Wednesday to take additional testimony for and against common core standards. 

There is no date set yet on when Michigan lawmakers will vote to fund common core again.

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