Private schools voluntarily moving toward Common Core

2013-09-28T00:00:00Z 2013-09-28T00:39:03Z Private schools voluntarily moving toward Common CoreBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As the state’s public schools move toward the Common Core, many private schools are also integrating the standards into school curricula, although they aren’t legally required to.

Some private schools have fully implemented the standards, while officials at other schools are comparing the Common Core to their schools’ current guidelines.

Teachers in Arizona public schools began teaching to the Common Core this school year after gradual implementation over the last couple of years.

School administrators and business leaders have lauded the standards, which are expected to better prepare children for college or the work force by teaching them to think critically and analytically while improving their problem-solving skills.

In language arts, students will be required to read more complex literature, including more fiction and nonfiction at earlier grades, and analyze what they have read through research and persuasive writing.

For math, students will not only have to know how to get an answer to a problem, but also show a deeper understanding of math concepts such as addition, subtraction and multiplication, and how to apply that knowledge.

Despite support from education and business leaders, some have decried the Common Core, viewing the standards as a mandate from the federal government.

Because of the outcry, Gov. Jan Brewer ordered state agencies to start referring to the Common Core as “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.”

Although private schools don’t have to follow state mandates, many school administrators see the value in the Common Core and are willing to adjust school curricula to meet the standards.

It’s common for private school officials to align their schools’ standards with the state’s, although most schools aim to expand beyond state requirements.

“This isn’t really any different than what the diocese has done prior to Common Core. We’re generally taking state standards and using it as a baseline,” said Sheri Dahl, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

The diocese is in its second year with the Common Core math standards and will implement the English and Language Arts portion next school year, Dahl said.

The Tucson Diocese has worked with dioceses in Phoenix and California, as well as the National Catholic Education Association, to develop and integrate the Common Core with its traditional Catholic school curriculum, she said.

The diocese also has collaborated with local school districts and dioceses in other cities to coordinate teacher training.

Like most private schools, diocese schools have not committed to using any state assessment tests to measure student achievement of the standards.

“We need to get more information regarding the content, how it’s going to be delivered and its cost,” she said, noting that diocese schools administer a different test that gauges knowledge of the Common Core.

Dahl acknowledged that not all Catholic schools have adopted the standards, notably some high schools.

Salpointe Catholic High School officials are looking at the Common Core and verifying whether the school’s curriculum covers the standards, said Sister Helen Timothy, Salpointe’s principal.

Salpointe officials are examining Common Core because it represents a new shift in education, Timothy said.

“We’re making sure everything is included, but this is not a big issue for Salpointe,” she said. “We will include something at greater depth if I find an area where we’re not doing something that’s suggested.”

Other private, nonreligious schools have also looked at the Common Core, although those schools haven’t formally adopted the standards.

Like Salpointe, officials at these schools are comparing the Common Core to their schools’ current guidelines and adjusting curricula where necessary.

Green Fields Country Day School, a kindergarten through 12th-grade school on the northwest side, is in the midst of a five-year improvement plan, and administrators are using the standards to help strengthen its curriculum.

Like other schools, Green Fields starts with the state guidelines as a foundation for its curriculum before expanding beyond those benchmarks, said Green Fields Head of School Becky Cordier.

Green Fields began studying the standards after public schools moved toward Common Core.

“We’re working on using it right now. It provides us with a standard to begin basing our curriculum,” she said.

At other schools, teachers have had the freedom to include certain aspects of the Common Core in their classrooms, although their schools haven’t adopted any of the guidelines.

Lori Patton has included the standards in the curriculum for her middle school English classes at St. Gregory College Preparatory School.

Patton, who teaches sixth- and seventh-graders, received extensive training in Common Core in the Catalina Foothills School District, where she helped align the district’s language arts standards with Common Core, she said.

“When you look at it, a lot of smart, concerned people sat down to write it,” she said. “I think it’s a great place to start and build from there.”

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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