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Morgan School board explores plans for curriculum input

Article Date: 
15 August, 2014 (All day)
As a result of increased public pressure, the Morgan County School Board is contemplating the creation of a standards committee to keep an eye on state core standards and curriculum while allowing as much local input as possible.
“This is new ground, a new path we are going down,” said Superintendent Doug Jacobs.  “This is not an effort to rewrite the core or change it, but to be more familiar with it, and get teachers and parents involved in the process.  
“Before we throw them out, I would like us to know what they are, have an intimate knowledge of what the standards are.”
The superintendent would like to make a formal review of state standards part of the board’s normal agenda so school board members are constantly aware of what students are learning in local schools.  A committee made up of teachers, a school board member and other community members would operate under direction of the board, and the board member would regularly report on the committee’s actions during monthly school board meetings.
“We need to let people in the community know what is being taught and expected,” School Board Chairman Bruce Galbraith said.  “We need to see them, be aware of them, so we can answer questions.”
Jacobs said the state has issued objectives, not necessarily a curriculum.
“The teacher can still decide how to teach the objectives,” Jacobs said.
Many school board members and school administrators said even if they and committee members become more familiar with the state standards, sometimes referred to as Common Core, they likely can’t change them.
“You are not going to change the curriculum.  It is set,” Morgan High School Principal Wade Murdock said.
“I don’t want to have a standards committee if they come back to the board (with desired changes), and the board can’t do anything about it,” said School Board Member Mark Farmer.  “That is a concern to me.”
“There is nothing we can do with it,” School Board Member Niel Carrigan said.  “Trust those who set it up.  They are the experts.  Teachers were called in to review them.”
For many residents, “take our word for it” isn’t good enough, School Board Member Ken Durrant said.
“You can’t just tell the public to take our word for it, that we are the board and we know all,” Durrant said.  “We need to allow the public to understand, to have the information you possess.”
This year, the standards committee will be focusing on math standards.  Jacobs said while math may be “too concrete” to allow for local change, things like English language arts may offer more opportunity.  For example, local school boards and local committees could approve or deny books on reading lists.
“We can tweak the things we know we can,” Galbraith said.
Galbraith said after reviewing the kindergarten math standards this month, he feels the standards are not new, but “escalating,” asking kindergartners today to know more than kindergartners did years ago.
“I was shocked at what a kindergartener has to learn,” Galbraith said.
Carrigan, a former Morgan High School math teacher, agreed, saying the curriculum hasn’t necessarily changed, but the approach has.  He said he individually made an effort to speak with those developing the state standards, asking for a math track for those students planning to attend college and a different track for students with plans for technical and trade education after high school graduation.
“You need something else for those kids who aren’t going to go to college,” Carrigan said.  “Not every kid is going to college.”
Tim Wolff, Morgan Elementary School principal, said teachers are not curriculum experts, but instruction experts.
“Curriculum has a lot of psychological and developmental pieces,” Wolff said.  “Teachers don’t spend their time learning those pieces.”
However, School Board Member Jody Hipwell said teachers are more of an expert on curriculum than are board members. 
Because the school district and committee members don’t have the time to research all sides of curriculum issues or financial resources to hire experts, Farmer said it may be worth asking state education officials to help the local district out.  Jacobs said officials with the Utah State Office of Education are willing to offer such help to all superintendents in the state.
Farmer said if people want a change on the state level, it would be more effective to apply lobbying pressure to the state legislature and “catch the ear” of government officials.
Hipwell said members of the standards committee could ensure that state standards are being taught in Morgan classrooms.
Morgan Middle School Principal Terry Allen said recent local backlash against Common Core isn’t necessarily related to curriculum, but the data mining that is attached to it.  
“You are not going to change standards.  You have got to understand what the community is saying their problem is with Common Core,” Allen said.  “Their biggest concern is the information that is being gleaned, not the concept being taught.”
Allen said a standards committee may not be able to address that issue.
“You need to identify what you are trying to accomplish.  Be clear on what purpose that committee has,” Allen said.  “If it is data mining, that is nothing this group can take care of.  It is not in your hands.”