Taking control of our schools

Dave Flinn’s letter on Sunday prompts me to write because I believe that the average citizen can have more impact locally than on something as huge as Common Core. We differ only on the approach to use.

The first distinction to be made is between standards and curriculum. They are two different things. Under state law and West Virginia Department of Education policies, the local school districts have complete control over curriculum. The state’s role is to set standards, not curriculum. Standards are all about how well a student knows how to perform skills in general.

Many seem to thinks that schools must use “Common Core-aligned,” packaged curricula produced by commercial publishers like Pearson Publishing. Not true. Harrison County purchases none of its curricula from outside sources. They control everything that is taught in their schools. Yes, buying it is sometimes cheaper and faster, but control of content is too important to skimp on. The packages are often full of ideological propaganda. Claiming to be “Core-aligned” is also proving to be more marketing than substance.

What Wood County needs are citizens that become far better acquainted with those running for school board (there are 10 candidates on the ballot in May vying for three seats). The opportunity is at hand to re-direct the actions of the board by providing for several “better ways of doing things” – like setting strict policies regarding the introduction of political and ideological content into our classrooms. Allowing such things is presently common in Wood County.

Another improvement? Create textbook and curriculum review panels comprised of a cross section of educators, parents and citizens whose job it is to review the textbooks and course materials proposed for use in our schools (again, Harrison County has been a leader in this regard).

The common denominator here is that local control of schools is what everyone clamors for, but with that control comes responsibility. School board members can control what is taught and a lot more. Most think the job is all about personnel matters and budgets. While these are important functions of school boards, there is far more that they should and could be doing if the right people occupy those seats.

Some things are terribly wrong with Common Core’s approach. It continues the failure of teaching to the test. There’s lots more, but education can improve even if efforts to stop Common Core are unsuccessful.

Tom Stark