Californians Strongly Support Common Core

Californians Strongly Support Common Core

By Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Unlike the political uproar and division elsewhere in the country over revamping public-school curriculum, Californians across party lines overwhelmingly support the new standards for education, a survey released Wednesday revealed.

The educational standards known as Common Core — adopted by nearly every state — revise what and how children should learn and focus less on memorization and more on deeper learning, critical thinking and hands-on experience.

A statewide poll taken this month shows that 72 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans favor the new standards.

Similarly, 70 percent of the 1,702 people polled support Gov. Jerry Brown’s overhaul — known as the Local Control Funding Formula — of how the majority of school districts are funded, with more money going to help low-income and English-learning children.

“Given all the dramatic changes taking place in both curriculum and funding of our schools, it was surprising to find such strong support,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, which conducted the poll. The results reflect Californians’ dissatisfaction with the status quo, he said, and the hope that changes will address educational concerns.

The poll showed that support for the Common Core State Standards varied by ethnicity, with 88 percent of Asians, 77 percent of Latinos, 71 percent of blacks and 57 percent of whites favoring them. Regionally, 76 percent of respondents in the Bay Area express support.

Anne Campbell, superintendent of the San Mateo County Office of Education, found the support encouraging. “These standards more accurately reflect the knowledge and skills students will need for success in their future,” she said.

Nearly half of respondents believe the new standards will make the United States more competitive globally, and nearly two-thirds felt confident they would boost critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

However, support for these broad changes in state public education is tempered by worry. Three-quarters of the respondents, and four-fifths of parents, are concerned that teachers are unprepared to implement Common Core, perhaps reflecting the variation in how schools have handled the change. “It’s uneven across school districts how communication and outreach are happening,” said Colleen You of Belmont, president of the California State PTA.

What’s important, she said, is getting teachers on board and trained. “When teachers are informed and excited about the standards, students and parents feel comfortable and confident.”

Underlying the support for change was worry about the current state of education.

Overwhelmingly, respondents expressed concern over state financing, which 81 percent called a problem. The poll also showed concern about low-income students’ lack of preparedness for college, and English language-learners’ low test scores.

To solve the funding problem, 46 percent said the state should increase education funding and use funds more wisely; 41 percent said only that funds should be used more wisely.

Respondents were less willing to increase local taxes for schools. Among likely voters, 48 percent would vote yes on a local parcel tax — far short of the two-thirds majority required to pass a tax hike. Only 39 percent of likely voters approved of lowering that required threshold from 66.67 percent to 55 percent — the same threshold set for passing local bond measures for facilities.

While 81 percent called school quality a problem, respondents viewed their local schools favorably.

About one-half would award their schools an A or a B. Among public-school parents, 12 percent rated their schools excellent, 45 percent good, and 38 percent “not so good” or poor, in preparing students for college.

And while people generally knew that California fares poorly in national education comparisons, less than one in seven correctly answered where the state ranks in per pupil spending for K-12 public schools and on student test scores: in both cases, near the very bottom.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

While acknowledging that Common Core is a step in improving teaching and that the new funding formula could increase equity among schools, PTA leader Erwin Morton called them incremental changes.

“Let’s be clear: None of our students have enough resources when we’re 49th, 50th or 51st in every category and at every level — the largest class sizes, the fewest counselors, the least of everything,” said Morton of the PTA district that covers Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. “The shift in the distribution of funds unfortunately doesn’t change that.”

Photo of Department of Education via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Students Score Slightly Above Average In Problem Solving

U.S. Students Score Slightly Above Average In Problem Solving

By Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a testament to America’s best schools, U.S. students scored slightly above average in 2012 international tests in problem solving — and performed significantly better than expected, when taking into account their math, reading and science skills.

On the Program for International Student Assessment tests given to a sampling of 15-year-olds, the U.S. averaged 508 on the 1,000-point scale. The problem-solving test is one of several run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, administered in 44 countries and cities.

Results suggest “students in the United States are open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution,” read the report, released Tuesday.

Still, the U.S. lags far behind the top scorers: Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei in Taiwan, as well as Canada, Australia, Finland and England.

At the bottom was Colombia, preceded by Bulgaria, Uruguay, Montenegro and the United Arab Emirates.

The results stand in contrast to the America’s stagnant PISA scores — all below international averages — that the OECD released for language, math and science in December. The scores released Tuesday reflect in part good teaching, said Pablo Zoido, an analyst with the OECD. “Top-performing students are enjoying more opportunities or better quality instruction in these topics,” he said.

It’s no surprise that the students who do best in math also do well in solving problems.

But the results also highlighted the persistent achievement gap among U.S. students. With results divided into seven categories, more than 18 percent of U.S. students score below Level 2, unable to solve even straightforward problems. Worldwide, an average 21.4 percent scored below Level 2 in the OECD tests.

Among the encouraging news, the United States has a slightly higher proportion — 11.6 percent — of students scoring in the top two tiers, compared with 11 percent OECD-wide. U.S. scores showed a 3-point gender gap, which is not statistically significant, separating higher-performing boys from girls. But the gap intensifies at the top levels.

The OECD focuses on problem solving because of its economic importance. Professions with the most growth are those like engineering requiring advanced problem-solving skills. Occupations declining most steeply are those that use more manual and routine skills, like clerical, sales and service work.

The interactive tests were administered on computers to 85,000 students. They were asked to solve various practical problems, in some cases having to select, organize and integrate information and feedback to produce a solution. Sample problems include purchasing the most economical tickets for a multistop subway ride and finding a place for friends to meet with minimal travel distances.

“It’s a little surprising, but not much,” education researcher Marc Tucker said about the results. Students who score the highest in math tend to come from the best schools, where teaching fosters problem solving, he said. At such schools, he added, kids may be able to follow their own instincts, teachers encourage a give-and-take on intellectual issues and the curriculum is more project- and problem-based.

On the other hand, in many schools, “basic skills, drill and practice are the order of the day, with very little problem solving going on,” said Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C.

Photo: UBC Library via Flickr