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Common Core Review Committee Rolls Up Sleeves, Gets to Work on Revisions

Most members work in public education but panel also includes parents and representatives of business community

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Twenty-four people make up the group given the task of following up on Gov. Chris Christie’s call to rethink the Common Core State Standards for New Jersey – and then there’s the 70 other people named to subcommittees.

Starting this month, and over the next three months, they will have a busy schedule as they try to come up with revisions to the state’s standards to meet Christie’s sudden – and some say politically driven -- dictate this summer that the Common Core Standards aren’t good enough for New Jersey.

A vast majority of the members of the so-called Standards Review Committee work in K-12 public schools, but at least four more members are parent representatives, while two represent business groups and another five are from the realm of higher education. Three of the members are school district superintendents, and one is a leader from charter schools.

“We’re excited to be part of the process,” said Tyler Seville of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

“I hope they move toward deeper learning,” added Chris Manno, superintendent of Burlington County Institute of Technology.

“I think [the standards] are fine as they are, and I’ll bring that perspective,” said Emil Carafa, a Lodi principal.

All volunteers to the cause, the review committee members and their colleagues on three grade- and subject-specific subcommittees met for the first time on Sept. 1 at Monmouth University, as state Department of Education staff reviewed the work ahead.

The first of three public meetings in the process – billed as a “listening tour” – will be held Thursday, at 6 p.m. at the Public Safety Training Academy on West Hanover Avenue in Parsippany.

Christie wants the committee to recommend revisions to the standards in math and language arts by the end of the year, a deadline he set when he declared that he was backing off his support of the Common Core, saying it’s not rigorous enough and that such academic standards should be developed locally.

Widely viewed as a shift to appease the political right in his bid for the White House, Christie’s announcement sent tremors through the state’s education establishment, which had been phasing in the Common Core Standards since they were adopted in New Jersey – with Christie’s blessing -- in 2010.

Some of those who had backed the standards and their accompanying testing are among those on the committees, and they acknowledged they are serving with some trepidation – but also with a strong sense that they want to be part of the process.

One is Rose Acerra, president-elect of the New Jersey PTA and a leader in a organization that advocated for the standards, even in the face of growing protests over the Common Core-related online PARCC exams -- which state officials said will remain in place for the time being.

“Ever since Christie’s announcement, people have been very upset by it,” she said yesterday.

But Acerra said a review of standards every four or five years is not uncommon, and that she’s glad that the PTA is well-represented.

“As parents become more educated, I think they will see the value of standards,” she said.

The state PTA is sending out an email alert to its members today, Acerra said, calling on them to share their concerns and questions through the process – particularly by responding to a survey on the state Education Department’s website that asks respondents to speak to individual standards by grade. The survey closes October 9.

“We are telling them, ‘Please, get out there and voice your opinions,’ ” Acerra said.

Others bring different perspectives.

Seville, the director of education and workforce development for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said business leaders have long expressed concerns about the career readiness or “employability” of New Jersey’s high school graduates, and that anything done to strengthen the standards toward achieving those goals would be an improvement.

He didn’t speak to the Common Core and whether those standards are rigorous enough, but he said clear communication of the standards to both schools and families would be useful.

“I don’t foresee too much (change) and we’re not throwing out the baby with the bath water,” he said. “But I do think they need to be clear and coherent. Parents need to be communicated with more.”

Manno, the Burlington County superintendent and a regional superintendent of the year in 2012, brings a perspective from both his previous job leading the comprehensive district in Burlington Township and his current job in a district serving both special-needs and vocational students.

His push is to bring a perspective on what he calls “deeper learning,” he said, an approach based on being able to complete tasks, doing the thinking necessary to work through problems, and then being able to communicate those results.

“It’s really where standards need to go in the future, with students becoming consumers and users of their education,” he said. “The Common Core was moving in that direction, but I’m interested in improving on them.”

Manno said he is aware of the political conjecture surrounding Christie’s move, but that he has tried to look past that.

“I think reflecting and improving is never a bad thing,” he said. “I try not to get caught up in the rhetoric and debate, but instead want to be part of taking on the task at hand.”

Carafa, the Lodi principal, is unapologetic when he says the Common Core represents a big improvement on previous academic standards and that he hopes there aren’t too many changes. But he, too, said a review is not a bad thing, and that some improvements might be found.

“If there are people who think they are not rigorous enough, we need to address that,” he said.

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