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Praising Core values

Local educators say state standards good for students

DIXON – A conservative activist recently spoke to a local tea party audience about her objections to state school standards. 

The crowd was largely appreciative. But a couple of school officials sitting near the back of the room disagreed with her arguments. They said nothing during the meeting. 

But in later interviews, Dixon Superintendent Michael Juenger and Assistant Superintendent Margo Empen defended the Common Core State Standards, which, so far, affect mathematics and English language arts.

The standards pushed the school district to start teaching students mathematical concepts earlier. Traditionally, students learn addition in first grade, subtraction in second, multiplication in third and division in fourth. But the district is moving each of those concepts a year earlier.

And the schools are weaving algebraic concepts into lessons as early as the third grade, rather than middle school.

“We have to make certain that these certain foundational standards are mastered earlier,” Empen said in a phone interview. “It has raised the bar in math for us. This is something we’ve been noticing in our local assessments. Our computation scores are not where we felt they need to be.”

Forty-five states, including Illinois, have adopted the standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association, a bipartisan group.

President Barack Obama’s administration essentially required the states to adopt the standards as part of its Race to the Top program, in which states competed for education money by pushing school reforms.

The governors pushed the standards, saying they would give students the tools they needed to succeed.

However, activist Heidi Holan called the standards “a massive experiment” that was spread across the nation as a result of closed-door meetings, which failed to involve parents.

Many states approved the standards before they were even written, she told the Sauk Valley Tea Party.

‘She lost credibility with me ...’

Holan, an Illinois mother who home-schools her children, belongs to, a conservative Virginia-based group that proposes a constitutional amendment to protect parental rights.

Holan warned the local tea party about another set of standards, Next Generation Science Standards. that Illinois and 25 other states have signed on.

Those standards, she said, impose “alarmist” global warming and overpopulation theories that lead children to believe that humans are a net negative on the planet. Everyone should know, she said, that the entire world population could fit inside Texas.

Holan’s presentation was focused on how the standards came to be, not their substance.

“The process is the main area we object to,” she said in an interview. “Some of the standards are good. Some are bad. Local districts are the ones who should choose their standards.”

Dixon Superintendent Michael Juenger said the standards are needed because “we are a much more transient society than we ever have been.”

“There is value to having the same standards across the country,” he said. “We have a belief that the Common Core standards are the way to go.”

In her presentation, Holan contended the Common Core standards involved the government’s collection of student and parent data such as religion, sex behaviors, and political affiliations. The information will be sought as part of the testing process, she said.

The government’s claim, she said, is that such information will be collected anonymously.

“But the way the process is, it can be narrowed down,” she said. “That’s the threat.”

Juenger said he knows of no such efforts to get such private information. Across the country, education officials have denied they’re seeking such data.

“She lost credibility with me when she said we were looking for political affiliations, religion and other information,” Juenger said.

The school district wants parents to know more about Common Core, Juenger said. It will have a parents meeting on the subject on Sept. 24.

Getting students career-ready

In an interview, Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett called himself an advocate of Common Core. 

“The Common Core is essentially a push to get students college- and career-ready,” Everett said. “Our entire push at Sterling Public Schools has been just that.”

He noted one of the changes as a result of Common Core. 

“We had always done coins in second grade. That was a big part of second grade,” the superintendent said. “Now, it’s in first grade. That conversion has been over the last 2 years. We are fully implemented.”

He disputes arguments that Common Core has affected teachers’ individuality. 

“They still have the ability to be creative with Common Core standards,” Everett said. “Common Core doesn’t mean they have to be robots.”

To attend

The Dixon school district is having a Parents Academy on Common Core State Standards at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24 in Dixon High School's auditorium.

Call 815-284-7722 for more information.

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