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State Unveils Plan for Wide-Ranging Review of Common Core Standards

Six-month initiative to reshape academic guidelines will include four committees, focus groups, online survey and ‘listening tours’

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When Gov. Chris Christie announced last month that New Jersey was backing away from the Common Core State Standards, he said the reason was that they were “simply not working.”

His administration yesterday unveiled a wide-ranging plan for deciding what’s next – and it’s so complex, it may need its own guidelines.

Assistant Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington presented to the State Board of Education a six-month plan for reviewing the existing standards. It calls for “listening tours,” focus groups, an online survey, and nearly a dozen meetings of four separate committees and subcommittees totaling 98 members in all.

And, under Christie’s edict, the review is to be completed by the end of the year.

Harrington said she would be back before the state board with recommendations by January 2016.

“This is an incredibly tight timeline we are operating under,” she said. “You can see we are wasting no time to move ahead.”

What will come out of this is a question in itself.

When Christie announced the retreat from Common Core, there was widespread criticism that he was only doing so to appease Republican primary voters in his quest for the GOP nomination for president.

Yesterday, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said the process could take at least a year from start to finish, if not longer, and that in the meantime the Common Core standards would remain in effect.

Asked afterward if he expected major changes to the standards, Hespe was circumspect and acknowledged that other states’ experiences in backing away from the Common Core had yielded limited revisions.

“We haven’t seen wholesale changes (in other states), but I expect that educators and parents will lead us on this, and we’ll learn from them,” he said. “Let’s not have a conclusion here before the process concludes.”

In her testimony, Harrington stressed this was not a start-over on the state’s standards.

“We will be improving on what exists today and not starting from scratch,” Harrington said. “We will not be starting over but looking critically at where there are opportunities for clarification, for omission and for addition to make sure we always have the top standards for our students.”

The timeline is indeed very tight. Harrington said the Standard Review Committee and the three content subcommittees are expected to be in place by the end of the month. The first two full-day meetings of the committees will be held in August, and the listening tours will take place in September.

The 23-member standards committee will be the most diverse, with half of it made up of educators and the other half of parents, business leaders and higher-education leaders. Three-quarters of the members of the content subcommittees will be educators.

The three “listening tours” will take place in different parts of the state, coupled with focus groups held beforehand with key stakeholders. Throughout the process there will be an online survey for the public to weigh in on specific standards, all culled and analyzed by a yet-to-be determined consultant.

The state board largely endorsed the process, but had questions. Among them was the extent of the work, with some expressing surprise that the process would only encompass the areas of math and language arts that are covered by the Common Core.

Hespe had said that one of the aims of the review was to look at how other areas of instructional fare under the Common Core, such as the arts and social studies, but he said yesterday that those subjects’ standards were not part of the review.

“This process we are only examining math and language arts,” Hespe said. “But in order to do that, we will be taking a deeper dive in the teaching across all nine content areas.”

The makeup of the committees – to be determined through an application and nomination process – drew the first rebuke in what is sure to be a hotly debated process.

The president of the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, said the fast-tracking of the process showed it was “pure politics” on the governor’s behalf, and that including just six teachers on the Standard Review Committee was under-representing those who know the standards best.

“After all the work teachers have done in recent years to implement the Common Core, limiting their involvement and decision-making power here is another insult,” NJEA President Wendell Stainhauer said in a statement.

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