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Parent peppers district about Common Core

LAND O’ LAKES — Heide Janshon says she’s not necessarily an opponent of the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by Florida, 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

She’s just a mother with plenty of questions.

“I’m a person that really demands transparency,” Janshon said. “I don’t like when things are being held back for some reason.”

It was Janshon’s questions and concerns raised in the fall at Trinity Oaks Elementary, where her two children attend school, that led that school to hold an informational night about Common Core, new academic standards that establish what students are expected to know at each grade level in English language arts and math.

Now the school district is in the middle of a series of town hall-style meetings on Common Core at each of the district’s 13 high schools.

Nine of the meetings have happened, and the next is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Zephyrhills High School. The other remaining meetings are Tuesday at Sunlake High; Feb. 27 at Ridgewood High; and March 4 at Wiregrass Ranch High. Those also are all at 6 p.m.

Janshon attended the first meeting at Anclote High and was not too keen on the format. The parents were divided into four stations, then moved from one station to the next, she said. The format was designed more for the district to provide information about Common Core than for parents to ask questions, she said.

By the third meeting, which Janshon also attended at Mitchell High, the format had changed. Participants signed in and could submit questions. The district staff then read from those questions and gave answers. The stations had been nixed.

“I thought it was much better handled,” Janshon said. “And they did stay awhile to talk with parents afterward.”

She isn’t done probing, though. She and a handful of other parents had a private meeting with Superintendent Kurt Browning and some of his staff about two weeks ago where she got answers to some of her questions, but not all.

“I’m a truth seeker,” Janshon said. “I don’t care what your opinion is. I want to know the truth.”

The Florida Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010 and in 2011 schools began phasing them in, starting with kindergarten and first-grade students. The standards are scheduled to be fully implemented for the 2014-15 school year, though the state still hasn’t settled on what assessment will be used to test students on whether they are meeting the standards.

Initially, the standards drew scant attention, but slowly they have become controversial.

Common Core proponents say the standards provide more depth of learning and will better prepare students for college, the workforce and competition in a global economy.

A growing number of critics say the standards aren’t as rigorous as proponents claim and represent a federal intrusion into what should be state and local decisions about education. Some opponents express concerns that data collected could violate student privacy.

With that criticism building, the state Board of Education, meeting Tuesday in Orlando, was looking at ways to tweak the standards, including once again requiring children to learn cursive writing.

The lack of a cursive-writing requirement was one of Janshon’s concerns.

Like some other critics, Janshon also questions whether some of the standards are age appropriate. For example, she is skeptical that kindergartners are ready for the kind of critical thinking Common Core expects.

“They don’t have a history in their brain to be able to draw from to make arguments,” she said. “They are still learning. They have to learn to think critically.”

Even though just 10 of 35 questions she submitted to Browning and his staff have been answered, Janshon said she came away from the meeting believing Browning cares about doing the right thing for students.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the district is trying to provide all parents a better understanding of Common Core. One effort is a parents guide to the standards that should be available next school year.

The district also created a brochure, “Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the Common Core State Standards,” and has devoted a section of the district’s website to Common Core.

One other effort has been the town hall meetings, but Cobbe said the turnout for those has been disappointing. Usually, just a handful of parents show up. The best turnout was about 65 people at Mitchell High.

For the Sunlake High meeting, the district plans to try something different. That meeting will be streamed live on the district website, so people can attend in person or watch it on the Web.

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