New School Curriculum Worries Parents

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Changes to Malibu High School curriculum, the effect of new, stringent national standards for primary and secondary education, are causing concern amongst the parents of some of Malibu’s academically advanced students. 

According to some Malibu parents, the new common core could place a major hurdle between their high-achieving children and the highest level of learning in math, namely AP Calculus CD, which is taken every year by a small number of students in the district. 

The group of Malibu parents, which has reportedly grown to be over 50 strong, has arranged multiple meetings with school administrators to voice their concerns about the new courses being offered. 

According to Malibu Middle School parent Seth Jacobson, the concern is on behalf of “a core group of high-achieving kids who deserve a chance at a critical pathway toward the highest achieving math classes that you can have in high school.” 

The new “common core curriculum” standards, designed by governors and educators from across the country, seek to standardize education in the areas of mathematics and language arts, ensuring all students learn an adequate amount of information each school year. 

These new standards will go into effect across all grade levels and schools in the Santa Monica- Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) this fall, in time for the 2014-2015 school year, beginning with math and adding the core standards for English in the 2015-2016 school year. 

The parent coalition hopes to open a clearer pathway for their gifted and driven students. 

“The crux of this whole issue is that if our kids … are pushed into this core pathway, the only way for them to reach the higher level of math in future years will be for them to have to take on an enormous number of classes in their ninth and tenth grade classes,” said Jacobson. “It’s not fair to the kids to put them on that path.” 

Ellen Edeburn, curriculum and instruction director at the SMMUSD, said that parents of talented students should not fear their children being kept from the highest level classes in high school. 

“When we have a student that’s advanced, we always want to make sure that they’re placed for what they need, and we’ve always had a structure in place for that,” said Edeburn. 

Edeburn added that the old ways of advancing students, such as having them skip grade levels or classes, are made more difficult with the new common core. 

“Years ago, if someone was in one class and they skipped a grade, the material that they skipped would somehow come back and they’d see it again,” explained Edeburn. “With common core, it gaps, it doesn’t show up again, the student is expected to know it.” 

Even with that difficulty, said Edeburn, parents should not be concerned with students missing out on the most advanced classes. 

“People are nervous, they’re scared, they think their child won’t get to where they want to go, but they can,” said Edeburn, “there are multiple pathways.” 

According to Jacobson, the existing pathways are less than ideal for advanced fifth-grade students hoping to take accelerated math, who under the new system could be placed in a class made up of sixth-graders and remedial seventh-graders. 

“We’re optimistic, yet we’re also ver y concerned,” said Jacobson, later adding, “we’re struggling now with the idea that there’s going to be a blended class and one teacher’s going to have to manage fifth-graders, sixth-graders and seventh-graders all at different levels.” 

Edeburn and Malibu High School Principal Jerry Block both concede that these upcoming transition years will present challenges to teachers and administrators. 

In a letter sent out after the announcement of the new core last summer, Block addressed concerns voiced by middle school parents. 

“Our instructional pacing and sequencing will be constantly under review by our math teachers and our district’s curriculum experts. We will draw on our own experiences with students and on research from other states that are further along in the transition to help us develop a Common Core math program that both challenges and supports the needs of all of our students.” 

Edeburn this week echoed Block’s optimism about the transition to the common core. 

“It’s an interesting time because it’s a transition,” said Edeburn, “and we’ll keep working at it until we get it where it fits.”