A second-grade teacher will grab the helm of a state-mandated program to bring students in Laguna Beach public schools up to par with the educational standards of other countries.
Linda Barker, a 29-year teacher at Top of the World Elementary School and president of the teachers’ union, was reassigned by administrators last week to serve as the district’s point person for integrating a new statewide curriculum initiative, Common Core State Standards.
The new protocol is aimed at increasing students’ computer, math, English, history and science abilities to match those of their peers in other countries and to prepare them for college and career.
“We’ve not had this kind of a paradigm shift in education in 25 years,” said the district’s assistant superintendent, Deni Christensen.
Barker was selected for her strengths in science and math, according to Christensen, as well as her ability to work with teachers in the classroom. No posting of the position was necessary, Christensen said, since it was a reassignment. There were other candidates, she added, but Barker was chosen partly due to her track record of supporting and assisting other teachers in different methods of instruction.
Barker’s salary, said Christensen, will remain the same as her teacher’s salary while being compensated for 10 more days of work in August, when teachers are usually still on summer break.
“The main way my daily work will change will be that now I’ll be at all school sites in the district working with teachers and principals as we implement Common Core State Standards,” said Barker. “Basically, I am still a teacher.”
Barker’s reassignment is necessary, said Christensen, because helping teachers implement the Common Core standards will be “intense.” Barker’s assignment training teachers on site will also save the district money by eliminating offsite training that incur travel costs and substitutes, she said.
Barker will assist teachers in changing how they present a subject, enabling students to meet increasingly demanding university entrance standards as well as higher career requirements, particularly in the mathematic-oriented fields and technology.
The CCSS program to step up academic standards is being implemented nationally, adopted in all but four states. It must be fully implemented by 2015, when state officials will assess the district’s ability to, for example, provide students with the necessary instruction and equipment to digitally complete newly formatted college entrance exams.
Barker will remain in her new role until it is no longer needed and as long as money is available for it, added Christensen, after which “she goes right back to the classroom.” Christensen said Barker’s classroom at Top of the World will be reassigned to a yet-undetermined teacher from El Morro Elementary School.
Christensen described past educational protocol as “behemoth” because it required a long list of standards to teach to students in 36 weeks.
“We were teaching far too many standards a mile wide and an inch deep,” she said, adopting an adage from a website explaining the new standards. “That’s not the way to teach kids. The way to teach is probably a half a mile wide and three miles deep so kids have a deep understanding of what they’re learning, and they can use that knowledge. When you teach tons and tons of things on a surfacey level, the students can’t utilize the information and don’t know how to apply it. The real goal of learning is how to apply and synthesize knowledge, not just be able to take a multiple-choice test.”
Christensen said student achievement has increased over the past years but “rigor and relevance” in the real world were missing.
“Kids are able to take multiple choice tests and demonstrate that they had memorized certain facts and can manipulate certain equations but the weakness was we were not testing kids on things that required higher-level thinking skills and that required critical thinking,” she explained.
“Consequently, when researchers started looking at what kids really need to be successful in college and career, they found that they need more of what is called ‘habits of mind’ and those involved increased text complexity, more interjection of complex texts that are more informational, and not just literature. For example, in math, to actually be able to look at real world problems and go ‘A ha, this is how I would solve that and here’s what I would do and this is why I would do that.’ That’s where we’ve fallen short.”
The state will provide some funding to integrate the new standards, which, for Laguna, adds up to more than $600,000. “It’s still probably not sufficient to fund the whole implementation and get schools to where they need to be,” said Dean West, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services. But, he said, it will cover start-up costs, such as staff, curriculum development, needed texts and wireless software licenses.
“We as a nation have been spending a lot of time teaching kids to stand on one foot instead of riding a bike,” said Christensen, a former English teacher. “If we teach them how to ride a bike, they’ll learn balance, they’ll learn body awareness, they’ll learn to use peripheral vision, they’ll learn a whole bunch of things. What Common Core does is teach large things very deeply and, by extension, the kids automatically have the smaller things embedded.”
Christensen suggested that anyone interested visit the district’s website to see samples of the practice tests under the “parent resources” tab and then clicking on CCSS.