Superintendent’s Corner: Get ready for Common Core

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 12:30 PM

You are going to see some things that look different in Durham Public Schools this year.

Our graduation rates have risen and achievement gaps have narrowed over the last few years. Magnet and traditional schools alike have adopted new academic programs and technology to help all of our students achieve their potential. DPS is preparing more and more students for graduation and life beyond that, whether it includes college or direct entry into a career.
This progress will continue. As I visit our schools, I am excited by the commitment to excellence and excitement that our staff and students share. At the end of this academic year, these schools will be stronger and healthier than the year before.
However, there is another change that took effect last year, and some of its impact will be felt in November. It is a change that I wrote about two weeks ago here in my “Ask the Superintendent” column, and one about which our district’s administrative staff is traveling across Durham County to talk to parents and community leaders. This change is a subject we cannot discuss enough: the impact of new state standards on all North Carolina schools, including ours.
Last year our state adopted rigorous new standards for what our students must learn. Some of these are the Common Core Math and English Language Arts standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The other new standards are the North Carolina Essential Standards covering other subjects including science, social studies, the occupational course of study, English as a Second Language, and more.
In line with our own high expectation of our students, the new standards raise the bar. They ask our children to apply their knowledge critically. The curriculum is more rigorous, helping students to master their subject matter rather than asking our teachers to cover a million topics more superficially. Although we have implemented these curriculum changes very quickly, which has placed a fair amount of pressure on our teachers, I ultimately believe that these new standards will be very good for our students and schools.
There will be some short-term challenges, though, for Durham Public Schools and all North Carolina school districts. As we saw in 2006 when the state strengthened math standards and again in 2008 for reading standards, school proficiency numbers dropped, in some cases dramatically. This does not mean that students were suddenly learning less than they had in previous years; merely that expectations had changed.
We will see this again in November, when the state Department of Public Instruction is scheduled to release school performance data for the 2012-13 school year. It will not be an apples-to-apples comparison of our schools’ academic growth and student proficiency from previous years. Instead it will represent higher expectations of our students, and a new challenge for Durham Public Schools—one that we shall meet.
We have two more meetings scheduled for the general public where you may learn more about the new state standards and their impact on our students and schools. Please join us at Northern High School tonight, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m. or next Monday, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m. at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability. We look forward to seeing you there.
Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.