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posted: 4/4/2013 4:04 PM

Dist. 303 candidates debate impact of new federal standards

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National curriculum standards divided St. Charles Unit District 303 candidates this week at the only public forum for them to voice their views.

The new, national Common Core education standards are designed to better align school curriculum with college and work expectations, but have come under fire as a heavy-handed federal mandate on local schools to change what they do in their classrooms. District 303 candidates have varying views on the impact Common Core will have on local schools.

Steven Spurling, the president of the school board, said he doesn't agree with the new federal standards.

"I do agree with the concept that there should be minimum standards," Spurling said. "There should be a base level of knowledge in the education that you have. I disagree with the rigidity of how they're taught. I would like to think in St. Charles we far exceed the minimum standards."

Recently retired Burlington District 301 math teacher James Conro said people may not like Common Core, but the new standards are here to stay. He said parents should prepare for test scores to plummet.

"The tests that our students will now take will be quite rigorous compared to the tests that our students have seen before," Conro said. "The St. Charles schools had excellent scores this last year. It will be a real challenge to duplicate that effort this year."

Ed McNally, a teacher at Proviso West, said the federal government injects itself too far into the classroom with the new Common Core standards.

"The standards are somewhat impractical," McNally said. "There is a reduced emphasis on content. To me, that is a problem. I'm a biology teacher. When a student leaves my class they should leave my class with certain competencies in biology."

Nancy Muzzey said Common Core strips away state incentives for high standards.

"It dumbs down academics one, sometimes two grades," Muzzey said. "Every child is different. You cannot treat education as a one-size-fits-all."

Corinne Pierog was the only candidate to speak in support of Common Core. She said the changes will increase the value of education on a national level, particularly in the realm of literacy. The positive changes are worth the looming drop in test scores, she said.

"The test scores of our very highly ranked schools are going to drop because it's in the test medium," Pierog said. "But our students' education is not going to be devalued."

Jim Gaffney did not attend the forum. But in a candidate questionnaire, Gaffney said he hasn't made up his mind about whether Common Core will have a positive or negative impact on St. Charles schools.

"The board of education needs to review and discuss all the proposed changes, ask questions for clarity and understanding, and then make a decision on what is in the best interest of our students and their educational needs," Gaffney wrote. "Before I come to a final viewpoint, I need to ask more questions."

Candidates Mike Vyzral and Richard Leidig were not present at the forum and did not fill out their Daily Herald candidate questionnaires.

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