A group of high school students showed up at the local school board meeting last week, supporting teacher Brian Whitfield and highlighting changes taking place in the high school curriculum. Whitfield, a tenured teacher, had been given his notice of termination due to shifts in classes as a result of continued implementation of the national Common Core program.
What some may have seen as a dismantling of the Spanish program at Corcoran High, Principal Antonia Stone is viewing as an opportunity to provide a wider range of class choices for students. Whitfield, who has been on staff for more than five years, started work for CHS when the standards-driven curriculum was in place. There were approximately 1,000 students attending the high school, and a heritage Spanish language program had been implemented.
The heritage program allowed Spanish-speaking students and limited English speakers to progress to higher levels of Spanish than students taking the foreign language for the first time. The accelerated program helped those students meet their college entrance needs, while learning proper Spanish language skills.
Now, student enrollment sits at just over 800, and Common Core has replaced the rigid standards-driven K-12 educational mandates. Stone noted that when the emphasis was placed on college and strong core classes about 10 years ago, “career technical education”—of vocational programs and other elective classes—started to get thrown out the window.
Arts and music suffered. Shop classes disappeared. Drama took a back seat. There was no more creative writing.
Under Common Core, the shift has been not only to meet college needs, but to include CTE classes.
“Students are now provided additional pathways,” said Stone. “They don’t have to choose one or the other, but can have both types of classes—college and career, versus college or career.”
Two full years of the Common Core program have changed the curriculum landscape at Corcoran High enough that Whitfield, obviously extremely popular with students, has seen his position replaced by curriculum additions that include creative writing, American Sign Language (ASL), choir and a new information technology (IT) course on the history of gaming. The high school is also providing a work-based learning coordinator who will help bring back student intern programs in the community; has added a farm maintenance position that could become a teaching position with students getting hands-on work experience at the high school student farm; and has a campus safety supervisors who oversees all safety issues, from making sure students are where they need to be, to providing student and staff safety training.
The new buzz phrase, noted Stone, is that everything in high school education should provide a pathway—to college or to a job, or both.
Stone said she is excited about the opportunities the educational shift will provide for students. Each class is evaluated to make sure it meets rigid college entrance requirements. The school’s new creative writing class next year will be an accepted college entrance class (CHS completed its complicated application process to the University of California system this year), while next year’s ASL class will provide two years of foreign language equivalent in one semester, since it is already a College of the Sequoias class.
The changes even prompted the high school to change its mission statement. Prior to the 2014-15 school year, the fuzzy mission statement was “to develop the mind, character and physical well-being of our students through an environment of academic excellence and responsibility.” Now the CHS mission statement is to “provide rigorous academics with real-world skills in order to ready our students for college and careers.”
Ironically, after all the hard work and curriculum shifting, another change could be right down the pike. Depending on the November presidential election, the national Common Core program may be dumped. The program has become a political topic for the major two political parties.