Kyle McCarty
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California’s implementation of the Common Core standards is changing the way K-12 education will be conducted. Cal Poly is preparing its future educators to teach these new standards, but is not trying to directly influence K-12 curriculum.

The Common Core is a set of academic standards created by a group of educators convened by the National Governor’s Association. Currently, 44 states — including California — and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core.

Jon Margerum-Leys, the dean of Cal Poly’s School of Education, sees the Common Core as a positive change for students.

The Common Core seeks to emphasize critical thinking and task-based learning. This shift will likely help students, Margerum-Leys said. He saw these skills as being particularly relevant at a university like Cal Poly, with its emphasis on Learn By Doing.

Though Cal Poly’s School of Education is not formally involved with creating any curriculum for K-12 students, the faculty in the School of Education are involved with local schools, and can provide their input on school priorities. Margerum-Leys cited his membership on a local school district committee as an example.

“These are people who lead in their fields, but they also have relationships at the local schools.” Margerum-Leys said. “So they form this bridge between real expertise, and practice and also valuing the values and the expertise of the people that are in the schools.”

Margerum-Leys highlighted the difference between creating a set of standards, as opposed to a curriculum. Standards give teachers and school districts the flexibility to design a curriculum they feel will best allow their students to meet the standards. A curriculum is more like a script for teachers, so trying to make one that fits all students’ needs isn’t the best approach, Margerum-Leys said.

Lola Berber-Jimenez, the department chair for Cal Poly’s liberal studies program — for undergraduates who wish to become teachers — also sees the Common Core as a positive change.

The liberal studies program already teaches its students the critical thinking skills emphasized in the Common Core, Berber-Jimenez said.

The Common Core primarily covers English, history and mathematics standards. Another multi-state initiative, the Next Generation Science Standards, seeks to cover the sciences. California has chosen to adopt the Next Generation standards, as well.

The liberal studies program is working to adapt its science courses to complement these new standards, Berber-Jimenez said, which place more emphasis on completing projects and applying scientific knowledge.

Berber-Jimenez cited a recently added project in one of the major’s physical science courses. Students were tasked with designing a parachute that could be used to safely deliver food supplies. Students had to apply their knowledge to decide what materials and canopy size would meet the goal of the project.

One of the goals of the new Common Core standards is to make students more prepared for college. However, Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Office, said K-12 schools lead the way in deciding curriculum for their students.

The goal of high schools is to graduate their students based on what they believe is necessary to earn a high school diploma. The goal of the CSU is to then provide access to college for the top third of these graduates, Uhlenkamp said.

Though there is not a formal mechanism for working with K-12 schools to design curriculum, there are some ways the CSU influences education at these levels, Uhlenkamp said.

The CSU system provides education for the most teachers in California, Uhlenkamp said. As part of this education, future teachers are taught how to use and take advantage of new opportunities such as the Common Core.

In addition, the CSU designed a test — the Early Assessment Program — which tests high school students’ readiness for college. This test influenced the MAPP, the new standardized testing system for California’s K-12 students, Uhlenkamp said.

The CSU also offers remedial courses students can take the summer before their freshman year of college. These courses allows students to stay on track and not become discouraged early on, Uhlenkamp said.

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