With Common Core State Standards becoming the new K-12 measuring stick across California, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday approved a plan for spending nearly $6.2 million in state funds to implement the program.
"I've signed up to it. I think my kids are going to benefit from it," board member Mark Jewett said. "And I hope I'm doing the right thing because by signing up to this for my two kids, I'm signing up 31,000 kids to it, and I take that responsibility."
More than 50 residents attended the contentious, two-hour debate Tuesday night in Danville, which saw a majority of the 10 citizen speakers oppose district support of the new state standards.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised," Dan Boatwright, parent and Common Core critic, told the board. "I would really like to see you have a healthier dose of skepticism. I would like to see you use critical thinking."
Common Core -- adopted in 45 U.S. states -- aims to create similar standards for primary and secondary education nationwide, with emphases on critical thinking and depth of understanding, to better prepare American students for college and global careers.
California adopted the standards in August 2010, and they are set to be fully in effect statewide this school year. Local school districts are receiving one-time funding from the state to help with implementation costs.
A committee of SRVUSD administrators, teachers, board members and parents developed a spending proposal for the money coming to the district.
Unanimously approved by the board Tuesday, the plan calls for about $3.2 million to go toward professional development, $800,000 toward new instructional materials and about $2.2 million toward technology ($68 per student per school).
"I believe that the standards, properly implemented watch my emphasis, 'properly implemented' will allow our students to be better prepared for college," board clerk Greg Marvel said to the group gathered in the board chambers.
Toni Taylor, assistant superintendent for educational services, opened the Common Core discussion Tuesday by trying to dissuade concerns raised by opponents at the Nov. 12 board meeting.
"(The standards) are not curriculum. It's really important to know the difference," Taylor said. "Just like our former standards, the Common Core State Standards define what students are expected to know and be able to do, but not how teachers teach them."
SRVUSD staff argued that the district might not be explicitly mandated to institute Common Core, but refusal would likely come with consequences, such as negative funding impacts and students potentially being ill-prepared for the new statewide assessments as well as AP, SAT and ACT exams -- which are all aligned with Common Core.
The critics were not convinced, continuing to urge board members to delay full implementation or cancel it altogether.
"We're tying ourselves to the edu-crats in our federal government. We should know better," Danville resident Anne Blake said. "One of the signs of a powerful central government is control of the minds of the next generation, and this is what we, in America, really want to avoid."
"To me, it seems obvious that (SRVUSD staff) are really all-in for Common Core," Boatwright said. "There's just one problem: It's never been implemented successfully anywhere. We don't know that it really works, so this is a big, big test on our children."
Monte Vista High School English teacher Kimberley Gilles disagreed, saying, "For me, Common Core is not unknown. It is not untested. It is terra firma. I've been teaching like this for 27 years."
"No one is going to force teachers to do what we believe is not in the best interests of our students," Gilles added, attempting to reassure concerned parents.
"We are not giving up local control. Curriculum is decided locally," board vice president Denise Jennison said. "I can tell you right now that Common Core engages students in their education, and engaged students learn."
Marvel also reminded critics that the new standards were put into place by state officials, not local ones.
"I don't believe this is the venue to try to get Common Core rescinded, if that's what you want to do," he said. "The venue is really at the state level. It's with the state legislature, and failing that ... an initiative process."
Jewett said his support was derived, in part, from personal experience, having taken Common Core-focused practice math assessments with his two children.
"They are rigorous," he added. "I was tired, at the third-grade level, coming out of these tests. And when I was done what I realized is if my kids can be successful on those tests, they are going to understand the fundamentals of mathematics and how to apply them."
Jewett wasn't the only board member to get a taste of the new standards in action.
As part of their public presentation Tuesday, district administrative staff invited a pair of teachers to demonstrate Common Core-aligned lessons before the board.
"When all is said and done, in the Common Core the student does the thinking," teacher Nicole Padoan said during her mock literacy lesson, which focused on deeper understanding, collaborative learning and critical decision-making. "Coach the writer, not the writing."
On the math side, the focus under Common Core is "how do we teach kids to think like a mathematician," as opposed to the previous standards, which taught "procedural fluency" or "here, let me show you this; you just regurgitate it back and turn the crank," instructor Gregory Duran told the board.