Common Core State Standards and private schools: A relationship of flexibility

By Karen Billing

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are coming in the fall and while public schools in California will be mandated to implement them, private schools are in a unique position to use them in whatever way that makes sense for their curriculum and institutions as a whole.

Leaders of local private schools said they like having the opportunity to be flexible regarding Common Core — they can opt out of what they don’t like and embrace ideas they feel would be best for their students.

“Many things that the Common Core is trying to achieve are really good,” said Dr. Tom Bennett, the head of schools at Santa Fe Christian and a former professor of education at Cal State San Marcos. He said there’s a real value in the standards’ goal for kids to apply math skills and solve unique and novel problems, and to develop critical thinking that will help them succeed in college and beyond.

“We’ve been doing many of those things at Santa Fe Christian for a long time,” Bennett said.

“We use (the state standards) as a springboard and then we go beyond it,” added Hannah Park, lower school principal at Santa Fe Christian.

Heather Dalton, director of curriculum and instruction at Rancho Santa Fe’s Horizon Prep, said Common Cure is often misunderstood as a curriculum when in actuality it is another set of standards.

“The benefit of being at a private school is that we can raise our standards to a higher level and we are not legally required to limit ourselves to one set of standards,” Dalton said. “At Horizon, we consider the state standards and national standards to be our minimum bar, we then go a step beyond by providing a biblical worldview education and incorporating other higher standards as comparisons, and often extend our expectations by as much as a grade level based on the ability of our student base.”

The new standards were initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and aim to create a foundation to work collaboratively across states and districts, instead of each state having its own set of standards.

So far, Common Core has been adopted by 45 states, plus the District of Columbia. Alaska, Texas, Virginia and Nebraska have not adopted the Common Core and Minnesota only adopted the standards for English language arts. Some states have considered “pausing” Common Core, such as Indiana, which wants to give the state board of education an extra year to review the standards and select a statewide test to match.

Any big change like this requires teacher training and infrastructure, Bennett said. It doesn’t matter how great an idea it is, everything has to come together in the implementation and it’s not always easy or quick.

Santa Fe Christian went through a similar change six years ago when the school changed its math curriculum, choosing a program that was rooted more in problem solving than in computation.

In advance of the mathematics shift, the school put teachers through three years of  intensive teacher training in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI). The research-based professional development helps teachers take a student-centered approach so they can understand and assess what students need.

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