Common Core the center of July 15th Regular Meeting

common-coreEditorial Note: I would like to thank Chuck Vail for taking time to attend and report on the July 15th Regular Meeting of the Octorara Area School Board of Directors. Unfortunately, I was not able the attend. The Common Core presentation had not be announced at the work session meeting last week, and only found out about it being an agenda item from the post on the school’s website Friday. If you missed the meeting (few attended) and have questions and concerns, or want to know where board members stand and if they are engaged in any lobbying efforts, you can contact them by phone or email. The school’s website provides contact information.

by Chuck Vail

Most of the meeting time was devoted to a very interesting PowerPoint presentation offered by Board member Elena Wilson. The title of the presentation was ‘PA Common Core Standards: What Are They and How Will They Impact Education at OASD?’ The presentation began with a brief, bullet-pointed recap of the evolution of academic standards in Pennsylvania over the past 20 years. Then the term ‘Common Core’ was defined:

  1. Multi-state effort that began in 2004;
  2. Became a formal effort coordinated by the NGA and CCSSO (including the PA Secretary of Education);
  3. Standards developed in collaboration with state officials, teachers, parents across the country to develop model standards in math and English for states to consider using;
  4. Clear and consistent standards for all states to consider when developing state-specific standards for math and English;
  5. Evidence-based rigorous content;
  6. Standards aligned with college and career readiness.

After setting the table, so to speak, Ms. Wilson’s PowerPoint presentation then went on to discuss the intellectual and educational underpinnings of Common Core, which I think can fairly be described as saying:

  1. If this country is going to have standardized tests for students, then more standardized curricula and teaching methods are desirable; and
  2. Despite considerable evolution and reform of America’s educational system in recent decades the fact remains that many of our students still under-perform students in other countries, and that since our students will more and more be competing against those other countries’ students in an increasingly interconnected and competitive world, it behooves us to see what we can learn elsewhere and to adopt those curricula changes and teaching methods that seem to produce students better prepared to compete in a global market.

Next, using more bullet points, charts, and specific examples, Ms. Wilson’s presentation showed where we are, where we need to get to, and the nature of some of the changes that will be forthcoming in the way OASD educates our students. The gist of it is that the bar will be raised. There will be more emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, so that rather than the traditional model of a teacher leading students towards ‘the answer,’ students will be challenged more to ferret-out the answer for themselves. (Author’s note: I hope I got the essence of this right.)

It was noted that as Common Core changes are phased-in some decline in achievement/assessment scores may occur, but that the decline should not be great and should certainly be temporary. This makes sense. If the bar is going to be raised, then students will need a period of adjustment to adapt to the new standards. They will need to learn how to think differently, how to achieve at a higher level.

As noted, Ms.Wilson’s presentation was very interesting, even intriguing, compelling, and about as thorough as such a presentation can be without taking too much time in a public forum. This was, I believe, the first time anyone else in the room had seen the presentation, and as noted it was offered for consideration by the Board. Presumably some changes, even if just a few tweaks, will be made. One hopes that when the presentation is finalized it will be made available on the OASD website, complete with narration, since a PowerPoint presentation without somebody actually presenting it is of only limited use.

Meantime, for readers who want to learn more about Pennsylvania’s actions with regard to Common Core, go HERE for a Fact Sheet.

You can also check out this short, humorous YouTube video which was included as part of Ms. Wilson’s presentation:

But also, if you go to the YouTube homepage, and search for ‘PA Common Core,’ you’ll find a wealth of informative videos that discuss the matter at great length and from all perspectives.

The rest of the July 15 meeting went pretty much according to the agenda. The Board approved for payment bills for the 2012-2013 fiscal year (an itemized list of bills was provided to attendees as a handout). With one abstention, all members present voted to approve the new Transportation Contract with Althouse Transportation, Inc. as negotiated. And with one exception all other action items on the agenda were approved; that one exception being the withholding of approval on the i-Pad users manual until some further refinements were made.


13 thoughts on “Common Core the center of July 15th Regular Meeting

  1. As far as I know, as noted in my June 17th Board Meeting post, only Mr Lapp has taken any type of official position on Common Core. Mr. Lapp called it the Dumbing Down of America. While apparently the presentation asserted more emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, my research indicated the program emphasizes rote learning (memorization) over critical thinking and reasoning skills.

  2. The Lancaster Online report of the meeting stated that Sam Ganow abstained from voting on the Althouse Transportation contract because a member of the Althouse family is his pastor, but did he recuse himself from the Negotiating Committee? I was under the understanding that he was the Chair. The district doesn’t publish those who are on committees, so… who knows?

    A 5 year no-bid contract seems unusual. There are other companies in the area. Putting it out to bid may have netted similar or better savings, without cutting the buses and extending routes.

    We also don’t seem to have gotten information on Shawna Johnson’s question about the new contract. At the work session she only referenced a line item, but not the content. Daniel Carsley was suppose to get the answer, and Johnson stated she would have additional questions depending on the reply. Seems that was all done behind closed doors, or was it? There was no mention in either report.

  3. Like you, Tim, I wondered a bit about the new school bussing contract with Althouse. But only a bit.

    You and several others have obliquely questioned the no-bid nature of Althouse’s new contract. I really don’t know about that, although I instinctively dislike any non-competitive business practices. You and several others have also asserted that there are other companies in the area who could provide the same service. I really don’t know about that either. But if what you say is true, then I have to believe the number of such companies is precious few.

    Here’s what I do know, or at least I think I know. If in fact there are other transportation companies in the area with the capability to provide OASD with the needed service, and if those other companies saw OASD as an account they would like to have, then those other companies long since should have been lobbying the OASD board and administrators to give them a shot at making a proposal when the Althouse contract expired. Did any companies make such overtures? Once again, I don’t know. But somehow I doubt it.

    I also know this, because simple math proves it: If one takes the remuneration that Althouse will be paid for the 2013-2014 school year ($2,156,150) and divides it by the total student enrollment in the OASD (approximately 2,700 students), then the annual transportation cost per student is nearly $800. If one then makes allowances for some high school students driving their own cars to school, probably with some schoolmates in tow, then it’s likely that the average annual bussing cost per student in the OASD is somewhere around $1,000. Think about that. One thousand dollars annually per bussed student over the course of the nine months of the school year. A thousand dollars per student, just to get the kids to and from school. Factor in weekends and holidays, and breaks, and time off for teachers’ conferences, and zero in on the actual number of days when students actually require transportation, and I’ll bet that the average DAILY transportation cost per student is close to what taxis or limousine services charge. Again, just to get the kids to and from school, even before the real heavy-duty costs of public school education kick-in.

    The fundamental problem persists: how to afford OASD’s students a new Cadillac education, when most of the taxpayers are driving ten year old Chevrolets.

    Chuck Vail

    • Another number needs to be factored in. If I recall correctly from the budget discussions, OASD buys the fuel for the buses themselves and is not included. It raises the cost even higher.

      • My understanding is that the school goes through the I.U. for bulk purchasing of the fuel to garner a cheaper price. The IU has several schools on board to help purchase the fuel at a lower price then having a bus company do it by themselves at the current pump price.

      • Mr. Stoltzfus has mentioned the bulk purchase program in his reports regarding the CCIU. My point was that the transportation cost is greater than the contract, because fuel is a separate cost. The idea of fuel being a separate cost to transportation is foreign to most people.

    • Based on your math for 180 days that is under 5$ per student to get them to and from school. That’s pretty cheap if you ask me.
      $2156150/2700 = $798.57
      $798.57/180 = $4.44.

      • The enrollment for 2012-13 was actually 2,508. The 2,700 number is one that still gets tossed around a lot, but is outdated. Enrollment has been in decline for a good number of years now. There were 75 fewer students in 2012-13 than 2011-12, with continued declines expected by the PA Department of Education into the next decade. It makes the cost per child a little higher, and the growth of the contact over 5 years would be proportionally out of balance if enrollment continues to decline.

  4. That is the enrollment for Octorara yes. But Octorara is responsible for students within the OASD who attend other schools like Avon Grove Charter, Pope John Paul, West Fallowfield Christian and a host of other schools that fall within 11 road miles of the OASD border. My children attend Bishop Shanahan and are just outside that border! That is probably why the enrollment is more around 2700.

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