UC President Janet Napolitano and three other leaders in California public and private higher education signed a letter Aug. 29 expressing support for the Common Core State Standards.
After state education leaders introduced the Common Core in 2009, more than 40 states have adopted the comprehensive standards designed to prepare students in kindergarten through 12th grade for college. Now, the university is tailoring its admission requirements and teacher-preparation programs to these new standards.
The letter endorsing the Common Core was signed by Napolitano; Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University; Brice Harris, the chancellor of the California Community Colleges; and Kristen Soares, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.
Napolitano was one of the first to support the Common Core standards. During her tenure as chair of the National Governors Association, Napolitano launched “Innovation America,” an effort to improve education by adopting nationwide educational standards.
As high schools are adjusting their curricula to adhere to the Common Core standards, the University of California is working to improve current subject requirements and streamline the course review process, both of which have been consistent with the goals underlying Common Core, according to Brooke Converse, a UC spokesperson.
A major part of this initiative involves the revised “a-g” course criteria that UC faculty addressed earlier this year, Converse said. In the “a-g” requirement, high-school students have to complete 15 college-preparatory courses from multiple areas of study. The name “a-g” comes from the university’s expectation that students take classes in fields such as history, English, math and laboratory science, among others.
Through the program, the university is working to clarify the subject area course criteria, develop course evaluation rubrics and increase the availability of resources to encourage students to fulfill their “a-g” requirement, according to the UCOP website.
While the university is continuing to improve its admission process, Berkeley’s school district has been working to implement the Common Core into its own classrooms over the past year.
After school district leaders adopted the Common Core, they launched an implementation program where they developed curricula to reflect the standards and presented it to the school board for approval, according to Josh Daniels, president of the Berkeley school district’s Board of Education.
“It wasn’t a top-down kind of implementation,” said Daniels. “Teachers worked from the ground up, all in an effort to better understand how their students think and analyze problems.”
Lori MacDonald, a K-5 elementary math coach, said the three biggest changes for students include a smoother progression of standards from grade to grade, a more conceptual understanding of math problems and increased efficacy in problem solving.
For the first part of the year, teachers who taught the curricula were particularly frustrated working with syllabi that MacDonald said “felt so different to them.”
“By March and April, teachers were seeing their students doing things they couldn’t do before,” MacDonald said.