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In new school year, local school districts continue shift to Common Core

  • Fifth grade teacher Mary Wilke listens to Sam Nichol during a math lesson on place values on Friday, September 13, 2013 at Broken Ground School.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Fifth grade teacher Mary Wilke listens to Sam Nichol during a math lesson on place values on Friday, September 13, 2013 at Broken Ground School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • From left, Kristin Womack, Pradeep Sharma, Maria Armaganian and Sam Nichol play parts in a game their fifth grade teacher Mary Wilke devised to explain place values in their math class at Broken Ground School in Concord on Friday, September 13, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    From left, Kristin Womack, Pradeep Sharma, Maria Armaganian and Sam Nichol play parts in a game their fifth grade teacher Mary Wilke devised to explain place values in their math class at Broken Ground School in Concord on Friday, September 13, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Sujata Khadka, center, uses her fingers to count while finishing an activity during her fifth grade math class at Broken Ground School in Concord on Friday morning, September 13, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sujata Khadka, center, uses her fingers to count while finishing an activity during her fifth grade math class at Broken Ground School in Concord on Friday morning, September 13, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Fifth grade teacher Mary Wilke listens to Sam Nichol during a math lesson on place values on Friday, September 13, 2013 at Broken Ground School.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • From left, Kristin Womack, Pradeep Sharma, Maria Armaganian and Sam Nichol play parts in a game their fifth grade teacher Mary Wilke devised to explain place values in their math class at Broken Ground School in Concord on Friday, September 13, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Sujata Khadka, center, uses her fingers to count while finishing an activity during her fifth grade math class at Broken Ground School in Concord on Friday morning, September 13, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Signs of the latest public education reform effort will become more visible in local classrooms this year, as teachers continue a shift toward lessons that go beyond surface-level learning and stress mastery over memorization.

That means if you haven’t yet heard about the Common Core State Standards, you will soon.

The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia and are meant to increase expectations in math and English to better prepare students for college and careers. In New Hampshire, districts have been gradually moving toward the standards since the State Board of Education adopted them in 2010. But as the time for new standardized testing – set for spring 2015 – draws closer, schools are making a more concentrated push to start preparing students.

“We don’t throw the switch and say ‘Now we’re Common Core on Tuesday’ – this is a process,” said Donna Palley, assistant superintendent in the Concord School District.

A motto of the standards is “fewer, clearer, higher,” meaning students will cover fewer topics but in greater depth. In kindergarten, for example, teachers may spend more time on numbers and counting and cut out introductions to algebra such as making patterns. Fractions, which used to be introduced as early as first grade, will be held until later grades.

English classrooms will see changes, too, with students spending a lot more time reading nonfiction – the new standards recommend nonfiction make up 50 percent of elementary school reading and up to 70 percent in high school. In writing, students will be expected to construct stronger arguments using evidence from the text.

Although the standards dictate common expectations across grade levels, local districts and teachers still get to decide how to change their lessons to fit those new standards. Administrators from Concord, Merrimack Valley, Pembroke, Bow and Hopkinton all say they’ve had the power to determine how Common Core is rolled out in their schools.

In some districts, small-scale implementation began last school year. But across the board, administrators say changes will be evident in classrooms this school year.


Last year, Concord teachers from preschool through eighth grade had two days of training with math and English specialists to help them learn about the new standards. Math specialists also spent time with teachers this summer to revise lesson plans that are unfolding in classrooms this year.

In Mary Wilke’s fifth-grade classroom at Broken Ground, for example, she will stop teaching exponents and negative numbers. Instead, she will delve deeper into fractions and geometry. She worked on a committee this summer that revamped math curriculum for grades three through five. Teachers don’t want to move on when all students don’t understand the material, she said, and covering fewer subjects will give her more time to make sure her students truly understand how to apply the skills they are learning.

“We used to cover an awful lot in math,” she said. “As a teacher, I really like this.”

For English language arts, the district purchased new materials this summer, and there will be a heavy focus in kindergarten through fifth grade on writing. At Rundlett Middle School, teachers will meet in their “teams” to discuss how all subjects fit in with Common Core. Teachers from science, social studies and other subjects will contribute to the nonfiction reading expectations by bringing more reading into their own classrooms.

At the high school, the move toward the new standards has been slower because the school is undergoing a lengthy re-accreditation process that ends later this month. English and math teachers had some training last year, but training for all teachers will begin this fall.

Now, as the standards make their way into classrooms, the district will begin communicating with parents about the changes.

“We needed to understand it well first,” Palley said. “So I feel like we’re just at the right time now to bring this out and talk with parents.”

Merrimack Valley

Last year Merrimack Valley focused on Common Core awareness, and implementation will begin in small doses this year, said Chris Barry, assistant superintendent.

Since the new standards promote greater depth of knowledge, many teachers will have to change the way they present material. Laura Culp, an eighth-grade math teacher, said she’s focusing more on perseverance, precision and argumentation.

In the past, for example, she would give her students a problem, ask them to solve it, and say whether it was right or wrong. Now, she’s also giving them problems that have already been solved and asking them to analyze if they’ve been solved correctly, and if so, why.

“We’re asking the students to look at a problem that’s been solved . . . and say ‘that’s right because,’ ‘that’s not right because,’ ‘there’s a better way you could have done it,’ ” Culp said. “I’m having to be much more of a coach than just an instructor.”

The district is also considering full-day kindergarten because the expectations for young children have risen so drastically. In the past, one end-of-the-year goal for kindergartners was counting to 20. Now, they’ll be expected to count to 100, by ones and by tens. They’ll also have to write all the numbers to 20, which requires a greater understanding of how numbers work, Barry said.

Overall, Barry said she thinks the standards are a good goal, but that three to four years isn’t enough time to fully prepare teachers and students for the new test. But since the 2015 deadline isn’t likely to change, she and the teachers are doing the best they can with the resources available.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “It’s too complex, it’s a big shift.”


At School Administrative Unit 53, which includes Pembroke, Allenstown, Epsom, Chichester and Deerfield, Common Core will find its way into all classrooms this year.

Kindergarten and first-grade classrooms transitioned last year, and grades two through eight are bringing in new lesson plans this year. In English classrooms, students are reading more difficult books, and the math curriculum has been reorganized. The SAU created a template for implementing the standards, but each of the five districts has freedom to decide how changes are made.

Pembroke Academy, which is also undergoing the re-accreditation process, will likely change its scheduling for next year so that students have their core classes every day all year long.

“They will be moving to a schedule that is more Common Core-friendly, where you have daily math and English language arts,” Superintendent Helene Bickford said.

Bickford said she has spoken with groups of parents in Deerfield and Allenstown as well as Epsom’s school board about the changes. Chichester’s principal has also done outreach with the school board and parents.


Hopkinton tested two new math programs last year in kindergarten through fifth grades and surveyed parents on what they thought before making a final choice. Sixth-grade teachers are testing a new program this year, and in grades seven through 12 teachers are continuing to adapt their lessons to fit the standards, Superintendent Steve Chamberlin said.

Since the changes started last year, students this school year are already showing a deeper understanding of how numbers work, said Debra Jones, a math specialist hired by the district specifically to help with Common Core. Just like in Merrimack Valley, there’s a greater emphasis on getting kids to persevere through difficult problems and learn how to apply math skills to a number of situations.

This year, a committee will focus on literacy and technical writing in all grade levels, Chamberlin said. The Common Core focus is also becoming more “global,” he said, meaning teachers from all subjects, not just reading and math, will be talking about how to increase expectations in their classrooms. Although the expectations are more standardized, teachers are still free to teach how they want to teach, he said.

“The teacher still has autonomy, but we hope the curriculum decisions are made in collaboration,” he said.


In Bow, Superintendent Dean Cascadden says he sees the new standards as the next step in a path the district was already taking. When he arrived in Bow seven years ago, the district began revamping its English language arts curriculum, and it will need only small revisions to align with Common Core.

In math, however, the changes will be greater. Like most of the other districts, reworking math curriculum was a focus last year. Part of that included conversations about how to alter teaching styles. The national Parent-Teacher Association released materials that give advice on teaching the standards at each grade level, which Cascadden said have been a valuable resource.

“It’s a complex set of work because it’s not just content that we’re talking about,” he said.

Since Bow is typically a high-performing district and the standards align well with what was already happening in the classrooms, Cascadden said there is not much district-wide anxiety about the new standards.

Too much, too fast?

While each district is well on its way to bringing Common Core into the classrooms, such significant changes aren’t simple.

The New Hampshire chapters of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are supportive of the standards but are emphasizing that teachers need time and adequate resources to master them. Since the new standards are so much higher and the testing format is different, it’s possible students across New Hampshire will see a drop in test scores in the first few years.

The state Department of Education is holding training across the state and created an online network where schools and teachers can access resources and share experiences. But the one resource schools can’t have more of is time.

“All the administrators I talk to and all the teachers I talk to, none of them say ‘Oh, we don’t think these are good,’ they just say ‘Oh my goodness, how are we going to do that?’ ” said Barry, of Merrimack Valley.

But although the changes will be difficult, all of these administrators say the vision and purpose of the new standards – to better prepare students for college, careers and to compete on the world stage – is a strong one.

“We are not doing our kids any kind of service by holding them to lower standards,” said Bickford, the SAU 53 superintendent. “We need to hold our kids to high standards.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments26

From the common core curriculum, everyone needs to read this and understand the agenda: "Nearly all of the best-known Founding Fathers—from Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in Virginia to Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris in Pennsylvania and Henry Knox and Abigail (not John!) Adams in Massachusetts—dreamed of vastly enhancing their wealth by speculating in western land. That meant obtaining large grants directly from the government, essentially for free, and then dividing them into smaller tracts to be sold to actual settlers". Here is the language in one of the Common Core history books: “The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.” Now here is the actual amendment in the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" Got ideological agenda???? I think so.

As usual, there is little of real substance to your post. What exactly is your issue here? Are you contesting the facts upon which the statement that some of our Founding Fathers were land speculators, and might even have been greedy, is based? If so, then a cursory Google search would have shown you the statement is accurate. Here for example, on Ethan Allen: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2011/08/real_estate_and_the_american_revolution.html Or is your issue the fact that this topic is being raised at all, in which case you are stating your preference for a politically correct, self-congratulatory, and white-washed version of American history. It may be hard for you to believe, but the founders were flesh and blood men--not superheroes. Most even had feet of clay--metaphorically speaking, of course. And as for the 2nd Amendment--again, you are the one with the ideological agenda. The history of the amendment is clear: to provide for a trained militia, "necessary to the security of a free State...." Washington and the other founders were intent on establishing a strong nation with a strong central government with the assurance they had the wherewithal to put down domestic insurrections as well as foreign threats. Evidently, you still need to look up 'sedition', because your reinterpretation of the amendment comes close.

We need to understand that at least two of the 11th grade history books entitled The Americans and The United States are revisionist and ideological. The first one, at the Americans explains the second amendment as citizens have the right to bear arms only in the case of a "well regulated militia" they leave out the 'keep' part and interpret the law in a progressive untrue manner. This is brainwashing. The book The United States tell the story of our forefathers as a "mob" and compare them to people supporting an uprising in Cuba and Vietnam. They also refer to the Boston Tea Party as 'extreme'. Now that is disgusting.......George Washington and John Adams were the equivalent of Castro or Polpot? That is the problem with common core.

You need to re-read your second amendment. It is in black and white that it's purpose was for providing for a free militia. The fact that no true militias exist any longer does seem to matter anymore. As for the assertion regarding Cuba, sorry they are correct -again check on your history. A bunch of criminals board a ship and destroy the cargo, we glorify it to be a patriotic act. There are so many untruths in the popular belief of our founding fathers, that fact and fiction have been blurred. Perhaps it is time to actually teach history as it happened without the hollywood screen play.

Sorry you are incorrect on both points. Castro and Pol Pot were totalitarian dictators, George Washington and John Adams were not. There is no analogy there. I know that progressives hate this country and all that it stands for but I am sorry, the textbooks are trash. You folks can't even face the truth about Obama. It is stunning how many 60+ year old overgrown radicals from the 60's are so unpatriotic.

You are distorting Mauser's post to support your agenda: you are the one who raised the equivalence (false) between our Founders and Pol Pot. Now you are claiming that opinions, based on evidence, that you happen to disagree with, are therefore proof that progressives 'hate this country' and are 'unpatriotic'. I think you skipped at least one step in the process of going from distorting what Mauser said to full-blown rant. That step would involve challenging or verifying the accuracy of his statements--just for a change.

Mauser - the Supreme Court has ruled that your militia opinion is WRONG -that is a simple FACT

To my knowledge, Common Core says nothing about what textbooks to chose, or what particular readings students will do in their classes--that is entirely up to the school districts and teachers. It seems as if any time you disagree with another's point of view, you immediately claim that differing viewpoint is "revisionist and ideological". No one of course, could make that claim of you. I highly doubt ANY work of history in ANY public school would make a serious claim that Pol Pot is the 'equivalent' of Adams and Washington. You're simply making that one up--citation please. Perhaps you should revisit American history with some books other than ones that would be found on the John Birch Society "recommended" list. That is to say: any that don't bathe our nation's founding and the Founding Fathers in the beatific glow of divine inspiration. As for your take on the 2nd Amendment--there you are most certainly guilty of being "revisionist and ideological". BTW: You might want to look up the word "sedition".

Still waiting for you to back up your statement that ANY textbook or reading material used in U.S. schools claims that Pol Pot and George Washington are equivalent.

Like most reform efforts, there are likely to be some drawbacks as well as benefits to adopting Common Core. To the extent that it truly implements a transition to deeper exploration of fewer content areas, and requires greater mastery of that content, it will be a genuine improvement. This should be especially welcome in math instruction--which has sometimes placed too high a value on breadth of topics over mastery. And having students learn to read more nonfiction is a long overdue reform. Guided reading of well written nonfiction can teach essential skills--reading for information, as well as pleasure, and help to foster the acquisition of critical thinking skills. The danger in adopting Common Core, as with NCLB before it, is that testing results, which inevitably will be poor at first, will be used to justify and promote privatization efforts, merit pay, continued high-stakes over-testing, and other nostrums the right has been peddling for years. Public education overall in this country has made great strides in the last two decades, and most of the criticisms leveled at public schools today are inaccurate and unfair.

Let's play "who am I" shall we? Which regular ultra-conservative poster am I channeling??? "Common Core is . . . RRRRRAAAAWWRRR . . . liberal . . . progressive . . . AAARRRRGGGHHHHH . . . socialist . . . politically correct . . . UUUUGGGGHHHHHH . . . democrat party . . . indoctrination . . . Obama . . . un-American . . . RRRRAAWWWRRR!!!"

Please, please let me guess. Van? no, Sail, no, GWTW, Rabbit, no. Couldn't be Itsa could it? Wait, wait I know, It's all of them.! They all get their posts from the same place.

I believe you told us Tillie where you get your info from. And I also believe I told you where I got mine from. Your response to me was that not everybody could afford to have subscriptions to all the papers I read, nor the time to watch all the media I watch. I know already what your response will be, Get Over Yourself Rabbit, come down off your high horse, that remark was stupid, so there I have saddened you again. Prove me wrong!

Miss Rabbit, you said your high paying job gives you a lot of stress. I suggest you get of the comment train and go out to lunch and relax. Life is shorter than we think especially since a mental job is so much harder than a physical one so you need a break. Enjoy!

Oh Lordy, here we go again. Paranoia. I thought you people all home schooled your kids anyway.

No, we pay taxes, we just demand that our children are provided a non-political, neutral and thorough education absent of silly political correctness.

Non-political? Neutral? Thorough? That's why you've expressed support in the past for teaching creation science in public schools--it's "teaching the controversy"by teaching "both sides". No politics involved any time a school board decides to allow creation science into science class? Have another think on that one. And your take on American history isn't "political"? That's exactly what you do want in public schools--watered down history that is clearly political, in that it won't threaten the status-quo, that won't inspire students to think critically, that at best glosses over the darker chapters, and at worst sees the divine hand of Providence behind every event. And science classes that won't threaten or challenge and inspire; except there is no "other side" to the scientific understanding of evolution and natural selection. Any claims to the contrary are religious in nature--not scientific and hence not testable by science. The same is true in earth science. When it comes to teaching about climate change--there is only the science. There is no 'other side' except the one fabricated by and financed by the deny-o-sphere, and there is no debate on the science undergirding the issue of climate change--however much you might wish there were. Here the right is guilty of hypocrisy: they want to 'teach the controversy' when it comes to complete hokuum like creationism, but when it comes to history--where there really is controversy--only the Itsa-approved version should be taught. Those taxes you pay so begrudgingly have always been used to excuse and justify limitations on what gets taught in public schools--that's why the pushback against CC and IB. But then, the truth is always a threat to the small-minded, the bigoted, and the powerful.

There was one math expert on the panel that created CC. He decided not to sign off on it. He stated the standards had been lowered, Pushing Algebra being taught to 9th grade would cause issues in regards to being prepared for college. Would require more remedial courses as calculus would be put off. He also stated that investigative math methods do not work. Others have stated that reading non fiction will stifle creative thinking. And there are lots of articles on teacher assessments with CC that will in fact make the process more complex, and many times unfair on how the teacher is accessed. CC will make all the other experiments in our schools look like a walk in the park. Lets see how this works so we can find out what is in it!

"The lead ELA writers were David Coleman and Susan Pimentel – neither of whom had experience teaching English in K-12 or college, The final version released in June 2010 contained most of the problems apparent in the first draft: lack of rigor, minimal content, lack of international benchmarking, lack of research support. None of the public feedback to the March draft has been made available. So this was the “transparent, state-led” process that resulted in the Common Core standards:.....the more you look at the BIG Govt that democrats force down your throat the more it should make you be ashamed to vote with them

Common Core is another government based data mining program. This is taking student information which would otherwise be illegal to use and sell, and making it available to the highest bidder by a loop-hole. I can't think of anything more alarming that the Feds taking over the educational process of our children. Preparing for a take-over of the masses one child at a time. if they don't know any better can they defend themselves against the government? http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/08/common_cores_data_mining_trojan_horse.html

Somebody please inform me just how this is a plan to take over our children with a secret master plan. As for the oxymoron "American Thinker", proof that anybody can create an online blog and sucker people into believing anything. Not that I follow the Huffington Post (another blog) but they summed up the American Thinker as "American Thinker is your garden-variety right-wing site for people who believe Jesus personally hand-delivered the Constitution to the founding fathers. " How about some pertinent discourse.

Mauser, it was an example. Why don't you google it for your own entertainment. These "Common Core" products were designed to track our kids start to finish. How might it be a secret plan? Well, it's like cameras in schools. If our children have no sense of privacy with cameras all around them, then in the future they will have no sense of privacy, which is a key component of our constitution and a surveillance state. If they don't know any better, it can be used to control the people. Then again... if it were a secret plan, you wouldn't know about it would you? Common Core was developed by Microsoft and several large corporations. The data to be collected by this typically is NOT available for sale, and common core subverts that law to make otherwise unobtainable data available to the highest bidder. Google it, find the information for yourself, don't take my word on it.

Jason, OK, track start to finish- how else would one be able to track progress to see if this approach works? I don't see the sinister content, all I see is paranoia. If one has a SS#, drivers license, credit card and a web browser, I fail to understand what more someone has to fear. It's the information age. Geoff

Geoff, if you are a lawyer or judge, you might want to find another profession, or at least remind me to avoid your practice. If I could avoid having a SSN, I would. If I didn't have to be listed in some government system, I would. School records are used to track kids, and that is a normal part of things. Making this information available to the highest bidder who has no reason to have it is another issue. Why is it that when some 'news outlet' that puts out information that someone disagrees with, they are considered a fringe outfit? Maybe, just maybe, they are a tad more honest than Fox, CNN, WMUR, etc. Maybe the amateur reporter has more to gain from an honest report, than a bobblehead reading from a script to generate ratings. "the bubble headed bleach blonde comes on at five, she can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye". This selling of information is just plain wrong. Involving corporate America in our kids education is wrong. Tracking of its citizens by a government is wrong, taxing people to death, because they can is wrong. You might appreciate living in a surveillance state, I do not. And you don't have the right to sell away my rights because you don't want to exercise yours or hold your government accountable.

More blogs that sucker people.....salon.com. thinkprogress.org, moveon.org.......I could go on. TV News that suckers people......just about all of the major networks and especially MSNBC.

It's interesting to me, I keep up with the news fairly well, and never heard of common core until very recently. I don't know if my school district has adopted this, and why should I know? One would think a $4k per year supporter of the local district could at least get a info letter.

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