Putting Education Reform To The Test

Three Questions For Orange County Superintendent On Common Core


Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins was recognized during Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State address.

When Gov. Rick Scott gave his State of the State speech this week, he made a point of recognizing educators who “help make dreams come true for the next generation.”

He singled out Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, who was in the House Chambers as the governor’s guest.

“Barbara, will you please stand so we can honor your commitment to the teachers in your district and your dedication to student achievement,” asked Scott.

After her moment in the spotlight, Jenkins spoke with us about her district’s move toward Common Core State Standards.

The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Common Core standards emphasize deeper understanding of fewer topics, and ask students what they know and prove how they know it.

She said it’s exciting that most states have agreed to adopt similar curriculum and will offer similar assessments to show how well districts are doing.

“I think it’s just good, sound education for our students to be 21st century learners, to delve deeply into things like creative thinking and problem solving and justifying your answer,” Jenkins said. “That kind of stretch for our students is going to be good for public education. It’s going to help transform what we do for our children.”

Q: Education Commissioner Tony Bennett has said districts need to have a “Plan B” for testing students in Common Core in case the necessary technology isn’t in place by the 2014-15 academic year. Do you think a “Plan B” will be necessary?

A: (Bennett said) that in no way implies that he doubts that PARCC will be ready, which is the assessment that matches Common Core. We intend to move forward with that assessment, but in case something has to be adjusted, we do have to have a Plan B.

So there are a couple of things that will be of concern to superintendents and local school boards. The PARCC assessment is going to require that you have enough computers to administer it to your student body.

So if they recommend certain ratios – a 2 to 1 ratio students to computers in schools – and we know we’re lacking in those ratios, then one of two things are going to have to happen.

Either we adjust the window and have longer periods of time and more days for the testing to get it done, or you get additional technology in your schools to cover what is needed for the PARCC assessment.

In Orange County, we’re certainly looking at what we have available as far as the technology – the equipment that our students can use for taking the PARCC assessment. Once those evaluations are completed, then we’ll need to make decisions about what purchases we’ll make and what provisions we’ll have for PARCC by 2014-15.

Q: Do you think at this point that funding could be an issue?

A: Funding will be a challenge in every district if they are lacking in enough computers to get the testing done.

So in some instances as you well know, there are philanthropic efforts that support technology in schools. There are PTA’s…There are sales tax dollars and other referendums that folks can use toward making sure they have enough technology in place.

The governor’s budget actually has a proposal – I believe it’s for $100-million – specifically earmarked for technology that we can consider as well. That won’t cover all of the needs throughout the state, but it certainly gets us started.

Q: Are teachers still working individually to craft their Common Core curriculum or has Orange County started moving toward a common curriculum for the new standards?

A: In Orange County, we’ve been very specific in moving toward a common curriculum, even with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

But now that we’re moving toward Common Core, we’ve had training going on for our teachers – we call it “black belt” training.  A teacher representative from all of the schools (will) go back and have those conversations and share with the rest of the staff around what Common Core is going to mean for their classroom.  We also have some online resources as well.

Now I have to tell you in most districts, and Orange County is no different, we have a spectrum of teachers in their preparation for Common Core — from the superusers who are on top of it and researching and looking at gold standard lessons and looking at the New York Department of Education website – to those who are a little less exposed to it and will need to have some additional work over the summer.

So our plan is to have some extensive additional training this summer as we prepare to phase it in.


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