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Friday, July 19, 2013

AAAAGGHHH!!! Anti-Common Core Group Invades Arkansas

We just heard about next week's two-day hearing in front of the House and Senate Education committee apparently starring a new outfit called Arkansas Against Common Core.

But we hadn't heard of a group called Arkansas Against Common Core. So we did a little digging, and, while they may have rounded up a few Arkies to speak, we don't think the organization is Arkansan at all.

For starters, for a just-on-the-scene, grassroots-sounding group, they have quite a sophisticated website, but it appears full of stock photos -- no Arkansans on there that we can see.

The bigger tip-off is the list of folks they have on board to testify at the State Capitol -- via "call-in," for goodness' sake -- who are not Arkies:  Joy Pullman of School Reform News in Chicago; Dr. Neal McClusky with the CATO Institute in D.C. and Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University.

Then there's the other "State's Name Here Stop Common Core" groups around the country.

The main beef these folks have  is supposed "national" control of local schools. Besides that being a bunch of baloney, it makes us wonder who all's really funding this effort and what their motives are.

Another scary yet spurious charge tossed in is that the Common Core lowers learning standards, particularly by ill-preparing high school kids for math in college.

We were at the Arkansas Department of Education when Arkansas superintendents gave a standing ovation to the announcement of Arkansas's participation in the Common Core. We were there when the Common Core was adopted by our State Board of Education (who actually are Arkansans, by the way).

National control? No. For years before the Common Core existed, the Arkansas State Board of Education has approved the learning expectations for Arkansas students. It makes sure kids in Marianna are exposed to the same curriculum as kids in Mena. A good thing, indeed. How that curriculum is taught is up to individual teachers and schools.

What surprised - and still surprises - so many people, is that over the past decades, Arkansas had ratcheted up our standards to where we were considered national leaders. Yep, Arkansas's standards were mentioned in the same breath as Massachusetts' and Maryland's.

At the time I left the Arkansas Department of Education, curriculum leaders from around the state were meeting to map the Common Core learning standards to Arkansas's. Quite a bit of learning, such as mastering beginning algebra concepts, was being pushed to lower grades. Even in Arkansas, with our already high standards, teachers were having to teach new and harder things earlier. It's a challenge most we've heard from have accepted gladly, knowing they'd be better preparing students for life in the 21st century.

But the beauty of the Common Core is that it really focuses on mastery of important, fundamental concepts rather than quickly covering a  wide array of facts. That extreme breadth in subject matter was an oft-heard complaint from educators about Arkansas's student learning expectation. Teachers found it difficult to touch on so much material in nine months time.

Common Core allows more time on important concepts. It calls for deeper learning, and, in a sense, learning how to learn. That is what will prepare students for the demands of life beyond high school.

At First Class Communication, we hope these folks from out of state don't undo the good things that are happening for our students. We owe our children an education that allows them to compete with students nationally and, indeed, globally.

Common Core helps us accomplish that very important task. That's why these Arkansans are very much for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Putting the relations in media relations

Last week First Class Communication was in Eureka Springs for another great Arkansas Rural Education Association Summer Conference.  Bill Abernathy does a fantastic job running the event, and it's always great to be around people -- both school personnel and many of the vendors -- who are working to improve education for Arkansas children.

While there, we presented two sessions to the group, one being, "Dealing with the Media in Good Times and Bad." (This links to our Prezi presentation; you'll need to give it a few seconds to load.) 

The key element we shared is to develop good working relationships with the reporters, editors and even bloggers in your community. Instead of treating them like the enemy, a pest or just another outside influence you have to deal with, understand their personalities, working situations and the kinds of stories that spark their interest.

Doing so will give you a stronger ability to share good news about your school district as well as ease those times of crisis when you must answer difficult questions under stress.

We also shared tips for preparing for the interview, sticking to your main message and appearing your best while being interviewed for television news.

But, as we said, the most important thing you can do is build those relationships.