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Common Core: “We’re Building the Plane While We’re Flying It”

By Khalil Abdullah Special to the NNPA from New America Media | 2/11/2014, 2:58 p.m.

Deirdre Johnson Burel, the executive director of OPEN-NOLA (Orleans Public Education Network), a civic organization that promotes improving education for New Orleans students, commends the BESE’s decision as a pragmatic way to transform public education in the state.

“It’s smart for us to reconsider [the way we implement the Common Core],” she says. “States are going to have to be flexible in not holding children punitively accountable for new standards, and teachers, frankly, are going to have to make that adjustment too.”

She acknowledges that “test scores are largely going to dive across the states” where Common Core is introduced; this is one issue that has been at the heart of parents’ concerns. For now, de-linking teacher evaluations from grades during the two-year interim period has provided teachers with a measure of relief about their job security. After the phase-in, student performance will be part of teacher evaluations.

Johnson Burel remains concerned about the skill sets of younger or less experienced teachers, as well as schools that “don’t feel like they have the professional development to support Common Core.”

She says that in her conversations with experienced teachers, she has found them to be among the Common Core’s most ardent supporters.

“What Common Core really affords is the opportunity to be master of your content. To a well-grounded teacher, it’s liberating. But we’re building the plane while we’re flying it and that makes me nervous for the younger professionals,” she says.

“Kids have access to improved possibilities to gain more information, but it’s not just about what you know, it’s about what you can do with what you know,” she adds. “When you talk to educators, they understand that Common Core demands a higher order of thinking skills.”

While supporting a transitional period, Johnson Burel is insistent that Louisiana follows through on its commitment to full Common Core implementation. She says that historically, many Southern states have not invested heavily in education for political and economic reasons.

“When states [have been] left to their own devices and accountability, states have not set the highest standards,” Johnson Burel says. “I’d lean more [toward] Common Core than the expectations of states to set high standards. It’s a powerful tool for leveling the playing field.”