Imhoff Testimony re: H. B. 597

Testimony Before the House Rules and Reference

Committee Regarding H. B. 597

August 26, 2014


Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, my name is Paul Imhoff.

I am the superintendent of the Upper Arlington school district.  I also have the honor of serving as the chair of the Alliance for High Quality Education, a consortium of 65 school districts located throughout the state.

Today, I am speaking only on behalf of the Upper Arlington district, our board of education, our nearly 6,000 students, and our staff.

I stand in support of the Common Core Standards for Math and English/Language Arts.  These standards hold our students to a higher level of performance than previous state standards– and there is no doubt that a higher standard is good for our students, good for schools, good for our communities and good for the State of Ohio. Let me give you an example.  One of our fifth grade math teachers told me that since she began using the Common Core standards:

Students have stopped asking, “Why do we need to learn this?” The answer: because the progression of instruction naturally guides them to make connections and find relationships in the number system.  They find value in what is learned and understand how to apply that knowledge to multiple facets throughout the year (in and out of the math classroom).  They “do” the math and “use” the math in their day-to-day lives.

We can no longer be satisfied with teaching students basic facts and formulas that can be googled in a matter of seconds. We must also teach them how to develop the critical thinking and collaboration skills that enabled us to CREATE things like Google.  The professional world has new standards for its workers, and we need new and higher standards for our students.

The educator in me must also share that while standards are critical, they are still just standards.  They are not a curriculum.  They are not a mandate of how to teach. Upper Arlington is a district known for innovation.  Our teachers have developed instructional delivery methods and assessments that are now used across the nation.  Nothing about these new standards will limit our freedom to innovate.  Nothing about these new standards will limit our creativity.  Nothing about these new standards will limit our ability to provide an education that matches or exceeds the expectations of our community.  These standards simply provide us with a stronger foundation for our work.

Whenever new standards are enacted, it takes time – a lot of time – for educators to translate those standards into a meaningful curriculum for the students in their communities.  Since standards are the foundation, whenever you replace one, you must rebuild the educational product. That takes teacher time, time when teachers are out of classrooms and away from students. It also costs money – money that most districts don’t have.  Common Core standards provide educators with a stronger foundation than ever before and every district in Ohio has invested years of time building its own educational product based on these foundations. Why start over?

As a superintendent, my most important role is to advocate for students.  If the proposed legislation is passed, our current eighth graders will have Common Core standards this year, the Massachusetts standards for two years, and new, yet to be developed, Ohio standards for grades 11 and 12.  Three sets of standards in five years.  Five years in which teachers and other dedicated professional educators must scramble to build a new educational product at the same time they are attempting to teach it.  That’s a lot like building a plane while flying it, and that is not what we want for any child.  It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t good for students.  College and the workplace are more competitive than ever before.  Our students are competing globally for the best jobs; they need competent instruction based upon a solid, stable foundation.  The Common Core provides that.

You have heard a lot of testimony regarding this legislation in recent weeks, how the Common Core standards were crafted over an extended period of time after painfully detailed research and extensive input from educators, business leaders, elected officials, and the public-at-large.  How it was done under the direction of a consortium of governors and top state education officials from both sides of the aisle. How these standards are a response to a regrettable trend toward mediocrity in the academic performance of U. S. students compared with those of other developed nations. That they are not the result of any federal mandate and do not dictate curriculum, instructional models or assessments. These standards do not infringe on local control of education.

These standards strengthen our instruction; they strengthen the foundation we can provide students as they leave our schools and transition to college and career. Today, more than one-third of Ohio’s high school graduates who want to go on to college require remedial classes before they can enroll in college level courses. Throughout the recent recession, when Ohio unemployment soared, thousands upon thousands of jobs went unfilled because Ohio employers were unable to find qualified candidates. Too many of Ohio’s graduates are not prepared for either college or the workplace. A few years ago, Ohio, like 45 other states, adopted the provisions of the Common Core because the standards it contained provided the challenges and motivations needed to prepare our students, and demanded a level of quality education that would again match those of other leading nations around the globe.

Those Common Core standards have not changed; only the rhetoric has changed. Conscientious educators throughout this state have spent the intervening years preparing to provide Ohio’s youth the best opportunity for a quality education that they have ever had. These educators have embraced the standards as comprehensive, challenging and motivating. More experienced educators wish these standards had been available to guide their own children’s education. The younger ones are pleased that they will be available now.

We ask that you not let this preparation go to waste; that you not start a merry-go-round of constantly changing educational goals and objectives; that you not let well-meaning but misguided voices deter you from implementing the sound decision Ohio made a few years ago; a decision that holds so much promise for the future of our children. These standards are good for our children and as educators, taxpayers and parents, we believe we should do that which best serves them; they should not become collateral damage in a misguided, misinformed political tug-of-war.