When Marilyn Melville Irvine retired in 2003 from a 25-year teaching career in Longview, Washington, she didn’t simply sit around reading Barbara Kingsolver novels. Irvine stepped right back into the classroom, this time as a consultant with the Kelso and Longview School Districts in Washington state, teaching staff development classes, classroom management skills, and differentiation. That’s where teachers modify content to make it available to students of different learning abilities.
A teacher will present Homer’s Odyssey differently to a class of special education students for a classroom filled with high academic achievers, for example.
That is Irvine’s day job: providing support in English language classrooms for teachers in Longview and Kelso. But for this busy grandmother of 14, one job wasn’t enough. Irvine was visiting the offices of Education Service District 112 (ESD 112) one day when someone mentioned that the ESD’s literacy specialist position had opened up. Irvine applied for and got the job.
Under normal circumstances, acting as ESD 112’s literary specialist would have extended geographically the scope of the support services she was already providing to the Longview and Kelso school districts, but this is not a normal time for schools in Washington – or anywhere in the nation.
The 2009 passing of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (The Stimulus Package), announced President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) educational reform initiative.
According to Irvine, RTTT aims to provide solution for:
- declining ACT / SAT college entrance test scores;
- falling comparative international scores;
- elevated rates of college students needing (and having to shoulder the costs of) remediation; and
- feedback from the business community that students graduating from high schools were not equipped with job readiness skills,
With support by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers collaborated on development of a national set of educational standards called the Common Core State Standards (“Common Core” or “CCSS”). The stated aim of Common Core is to equip American students for college and career readiness upon graduation from high school.
As a veteran English language instructor and ESD literacy specialist, Irvine is in position to the ESD’s 30 districts get the new Common Core standards implemented so that the region’s schools will be on schedule to be in full deployment in the 2014-15 school year.
In her position, Irvine is part of Washington state’s Literacy and Leadership Cadre, a group of representatives from the state’s nine Educational Service Districts and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The group meets monthly to design staff development modules that will be used across the state.
Common Core is not without vocal and influential critics. Arguments are both philosophical to political. Educators who are not in support feel a national rewrite of educational curriculum cannot meet the best needs of students when teachers, parents, and developmental psychologists are not involved in its creation. They don’t buy into the idea that the function of public schools is to create consumables for the business community.
Political opponents don’t get past the concept of a national rewrite. Public education belongs in the hands of the states and not in the hands of the federal government, they believe, citing the Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights. They raise concerns about a socialist agenda in the Common Core’s standards.
Irvine, though, feels optimistic that Common Core is a “fabulous” solution. “This is exactly what the public school system needs to help students become career or college ready,” Irvine stated in a phone interview this week. With the majority of states adopting it, Irvine looks forward to being able to share ideas and curriculum resources which teachers across the nation. Teachers are now able to do an Internet search and find resources. (Forty-five states originally adopted Common Core though 17 of those are slowing down their implementation.)
Speaking of the benefits of Common Core to mobile students, Irvine said, ““Kids can transfer from Longview to Oklahoma City and they will meet the same standards.” The Department of Defense recognizes this advantage for its military families and has embraced the standards.
To detractors, Irvine says, “To anyone who criticizes the standards, I ask, ‘Have you ever read them?’”