Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Common core and poor rural school districts

The debate over "Common Core" has not been presented by the media much (as far as I have seen) in relation to rural school districts which, of courses, face myriad challenges (see posts under the "education" label).  But this NPR story, partly out of rural Oklahoma, does just that.

Common Core has been mostly in the news with regard to states opting out of the federal program.  Oklahoma was one of the most vocal states in doing so, but this NPR story shows that the battle there was not one-sided.  Many, including Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, supported the standards.  Here's an excerpt from Cory Turner's story:
[S]upporters cheered the standards for raising expectations, while critics argued passionately that the federal government was trying to take over public schools. The fight pitted parents, teachers and politicians against each other and reached fever pitch last spring.
One of the educators featured in the story is Heather Samis, who teaches English in Hugo, Oklahoma, population 5,257, on the Texas state line.  Samis was in Oklahoma City helping to write Common Core teaching materials when she learned of Oklahoma's repeal in May, 2014:    
I was sick to my stomach. I cried.  
Turner explains:  
Samis gets emotional talking about the Core repeal because, she says, the standards were tougher than the state's old standards. And she worries that, with the SAT and ACT both aligning to the Common Core, her students will have a harder time getting into college and out of poverty.
Turner describes Hugo as "a remarkably poor corner of the state. Here, parts of town aren't just vacant, they're burned out, roofs collapsed. It's as if the poverty here is literally crushing the buildings."  Hugo is the county seat of Choctaw County, population 15,045.

Hugo's poverty rate is a whopping 42.1%.  That's a level of poverty rarely seen anywhere in the United States, and certainly not in places other than Indian reservations.   In fact, 17% of Choctaw County's population is American Indian, and 11% is African-American, making it remarkably diverse for a nonmetropolitan county in Oklahoma.  The poverty rate or the county is 27.1%

In that context, Samis's perspective is in some ways quite remarkable because she is not afraid of being seen to fail if she could not raise her students to the higher bar set by the Common Core.  Yet the challenge for teachers like Samis--and for her students--is surely much greater than that for affluent districts educating mostly affluent students--or at least those with parents who are more consistently educated and who value education.  That would, for example, seem to be the case in Stillwater, Oklahoma, also featured in Turner's story.  Stillwater is home to Oklahoma State University, even though its poverty rate is high at 32.7%.  There, school officials have refused to drop the Common Core.

This may help explain why Stillwater is among the districts which are simply refusing to drop the Core.  Gay Washington, assistant superintendent for educational services at Stillwater explains:
We can't go backwards.  Because, for three years, we had gone down a path [with implementing Common Core] that we saw was raising the bar, digging deeper.  
It is heartening to hear of these teachers who are so invested in their students' success--not just on state tests, but in future educational endeavors.   

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