New curriculum standards called “Common Core” go into full implementation this year at Arizona public schools. Arizona has joined 46 other states to use the Common Core standards for K-12 math and English. The standards will be tested using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. Schools are facing challenges in implementing the new standards and testing. Denise Birdwell, the superintendent of the Higley Unified School District, will talk about the challenges schools face in implementing the new standards.
Ted Simons: A new curriculum standard called common core will be implemented this year at Arizona public schools. Common core standards include the partnership for assessment of readiness for college and careers test, otherwise known as the PARCC test. Schools are facing a variety of challenges and implementing the new standards and testing. Denise Birdwell the superintendent of the Higley unified school district is here now to talk about some of those challenges. Good to see you again.
Denise Birdwell: Great to see you.
Ted Simons: We talked about common core a while back, saying it's coming. Most folks don't -- Aren't aware of it. Well, it's here, and folks better be aware of it. What's common core?
Denise Birdwell: Basically it's a set of skills looking at reading, writing, and mathematics, preparing a student, K-12, for college and career readiness.
Ted Simons: How different are common core standards and teaching methods? Let's talk about teaching methods? How different from what we're seeing now?
Denise Birdwell: There's a significant difference. A lot of it has to do with the depth in which we teach. The critical thinking, the analysis, the sense is how we apply what it is that we know in answering the complexities of learning.
Ted Simons: Is there -- Can you give an example of what a test question might be now as opposed to what it would be with the PARCC test?
Denise Birdwell: Sure. In the past, in particularly the last looking back over the last century, a lot of it was ROTE learning. It was a memorization process. Now instead of asking you when -- What was the war of 1812, we're going to look at more of, what was the impact of the war of and how did it affect society and the implications following that war?
Ted Simons: Sounds like instead of A, B, C, or D, it's lots of words.
Denise Birdwell: Indeed it is. And it is a different vocabulary. We're looking at the academic vocabulary, and literature, completely different impact as we look at the text.
Ted Simons: How much time have schools and teachers had to adjust to these changes?
Denise Birdwell: Well, we've had a little bit of time. In Arizona, we've been aligning our curriculum for a couple years. But truly the alignment process has had a heavy focus in the last months. This year it's all about instruction. So that's a professional development process with our teachers.
Ted Simons: How much time -- So you say the past couple years, was that a good enough amount of time, or was more time needed?
Denise Birdwell: It's kind of a mixed answer. In other words, this is one of these reforms that's not funded. So how are schools going to get the work done? So you built it into the concept of work, the natural process. As we look to the curriculum we began to look at those standards. So is there enough time? Yes, and no. Because we couldn't pull teachers out and pay for professional development and training. So we did have some difficulty with that.
Ted Simons: What about equipment and infrastructure?
Denise Birdwell: Oh, absolutely. You really nailed it there. One of the issues that we face is the subject of materials and supplies. Without capital funding we're not adopted any new textbooks. I probably haven't adopted any in my district in eight years. You can take the old materials and align it to the new standards. In addition to that, remember the assessment is coming here in a year, and when that assessment comes, it is technology driven. So is your infrastructure ready?
Ted Simons: Are the tests all done on computers?
Denise Birdwell: They are.
Ted Simons: Every --
Denise Birdwell: grades two through .
Ted Simons: My goodness. And that means -- So the essay form responses, you're right there in front of the keyboard.
Denise Birdwell: It's even greater than that. What you're doing is saying to a second grader that you need to be able to drag and click and copy, you need to be able to scroll down the computer and so these are skills that our students need to be taught, but they need the availability to work with computers to prepare for that test.
Ted Simons: Do all school districts have the equipment, the computers needed for the tests? And for the instruction?
Denise Birdwell: No, they do not. And that is one of our problems, in Arizona, if we look at our infrastructure and particularly rural districts in Arizona, they don't have all of the technology needs. It's not just the computer. It's the lines coming to the school. It's having the internet access in all the different points we need it.
Ted Simons: What are they going to do? How do they adjust?
Denise Birdwell: That's a state issue, and it's being discussed on many levels. I know the state is well aware that we need something to support these schools. In addition to that, it's also been looked at financially. We're talking about millions of dollars to prepare the technology assessment side. So throughout Arizona school board association, Arizona school business association, $250 million to get Arizona ready in the area of technology.
Ted Simons: And again, you mentioned earlier this is essentially unfunded, sounds like it's an unfunded mandate. What kind of costs are we looking at here?
Denise Birdwell: Well, just the cost of getting the teachers ready. When you talk about professional development, training, potential materials, assessments at the district level so our kids have a chance to practice that type of testing prior to a state examination. You're talking about $150 million that has been projected by the organizations who have looked at this and including the department of education has taken a look and said, it's about 150 to $160 million.
Ted Simons: Is the state ready to pay for this?
Denise Birdwell: We haven't heard where the funds are coming from.
Ted Simons: Yeah, that's what I'm wondering. I'm hearing the numbers, but not where they're coming from.
Denise Birdwell: Absolutely not.
Ted Simons: So we just basically wait and see -- You're going to have to get by this first year, just to figure out where things stand.
Denise Birdwell: Yeah. Well, here's the deal. We know that it was a movement that came out of the governor's office. We know it was adopted by our board of education. As educators we begin the work. We pull teachers together, we build it into the natural process of doing business. We know it's costing us, but the reality is, it is -- The commitment that we make to students.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, bottom line, does this, will this make for better educated students?
Denise Birdwell: I believe it will. And I think when we look at the survey across the nation, you find over 75% of the superintendents across the nation have said, they believe it will raise the education of children. And it's moving us in a couple different directions as well. One, we're going to raise the level of our students in the preparedness for college and career readiness. But there's another aspect. I look at the mobile society. And I look at how many families move from place to place for the economy. And in that regard it helps close that gap. So today in Arizona I'm in a math class. Sixth grade. I move to New Mexico for work because the construction market has dropped. The student should expect, I can pick up where I'm at and continue my learning.
Ted Simons: It's funny you bring that up. I think one of the biggest criticisms of hear of common core is that it's a pseudo national, pseudo federal program, takes control away from Arizona, there's some people -- Still, the idea that it takes control away from local. How do you respond to that?
Denise Birdwell: I don't think it does. When we talk about standards, standards are inviting principle. But when it comes to how do you teach, what is the curriculum you use to teach that standard, that's a local control. So your local governing boards, your local teachers come together to build that material. I don't necessarily teach with the same materials that are being taught in the neighbor district mechanics to me. Gilbert and Higley are not exactly the same. But the standard in which we're teaching, that is aligned, and that helps close the educational gap.
Ted Simons: But districts can't say no to this. Correct? This is a done deal for Arizona school districts it.
Denise Birdwell: Was adopted by the state board of education, and when it's adopted by the state board of education, we teach the common core. So no, we don't say no.
Ted Simons: You better get used to it.
Denise Birdwell: You better get used to it.
Ted Simons: It's good to hear from you. We'll see how it works. It's kind of exciting having this thing roll out.
Denise Birdwell: It's good for kids. It is exciting, and I think teachers are embracing it.
Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.
Denise Birdwell:Superintendent, Higley Unified School District;