The board voted unanimously Tuesday to begin developing its own Germantown Model of Standards for Academic Achievement in January. Germantown is now the first district in the state to formally move away from Common Core, but school board members in other districts could follow.
“We don’t want to be a mediocre district,” school board vice president Sarah Larson said. “We want to be a premiere district in Wisconsin.”
The district is already one of the highest performing districts in the state. US News & World Report ranked Germantown High School sixth in Wisconsin and in the top 5 percent of high schools nationally. District Administrator Jeff Holmes said sticking to the Common Core would take the district down a road of mediocrity.
But the school district won’t completely discard Common Core. That’s due in part to mandatory standardized testing aligned to the national standards, and teacher effectiveness and school report cards tied to student scores on those tests. Those tests are scheduled to be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
Instead, the school district will use Common Core as a “reference point,” something the district can build on in some respects and ignore in others.
“If we could go back in time (and not adopt CCSS) it would be wonderful,” Holmes said. “But you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You have to be prudent. It has to be rationally thought out.”
The new district standards, he said, would result from collaboration between district administrators, school board members, teachers, parents, community members and even students.
Holmes said “everything is on the table.” The board might pick and choose some individual standards from the Common Core, other established more rigorous standards or develop their own to make a set of standards unique to Germantown. The process could take more than a year. In the meantime, the school district will continue to use Common Core as it has since the 2011 school year.
“Common Core is highly structured with the assumption that every kid is going to learn at the same pace,” Holmes said. “To me I see a grand opportunity to be mindful of all the things around us. It’s an opportunity to move into a modern learning organization, to move away from a 19th century factory model.”
Curriculum director Brenda O’Brien said the focus to this point has been around what children should learn, as opposed to the process of how they learn. The school district will focus more on the process of learning in its curriculum, while developing more rigorous academic standards.
So what does all this look like in practice?
O’Brien gave the example of students with special needs having Individualized Education Programs – an educational plan tailored to the individual student with his or her learning disability, keeping the student’s strengths and weaknesses in mind. The IEP lays out where the student is now and sets educational goals for the year.
“We want to make something like that available to many students without placing labels on them; to make learning individualized,” she said. “We want to look at ‘How do we create an educational system for students so that it is personalized for them so they are successful?”
“I think it is a paradigm shift,” she said. “It is thinking about ‘What does education mean in the 21st century?’ We can’t continue with the way that education has been done over the past hundred years.”
She called the process the “Germantown way.”
While a recently released survey of district administrators showed most of them support the Common Core, other school board members have expressed concern about the standards, particularly in regard to local control and academic rigor.
Dan Rossmiller, executive director at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said he expects “vigorous debate” between school board delegates at the association’s annual conference in January about the position the lobby takes on Common Core.
“A number of school board members have raised questions and expressed concerns to me (about Common Core),” he said. “I think the general direction they would like to go is to have more rigorous standards than what they perceive the Common Core standards to be.”
No other school board to this point has gone as far as Germantown, but some of that may be due to the assessments and teacher evaluations tied to Common Core — agreements Wisconsin made with the federal government to get a No Child Left Behind waiver.
“The whole thing gets a little bit messy,” Rossmiller said. “The question, ‘Exactly what does all of this entail if you try to unravel Common Core?’ is probably what’s preventing more if it.”
But Holmes sees Germantown’s move as leading the way for other districts who aren’t satisfied with more of the same in education.
“I see this as a grand opportunity to be a leader in an organization that is looking to become highly relevant in the modern world. I believe this means more local control will be in place, and nobody cares more about our kids than the people in the community,” he said.
“Hopefully others see what we’re doing as a model,” he said. “People do have the prerogative to change their minds. If you see a better path, why not take it?”