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Teacher Challenges

Thursday, October 10, 2013 -- Shane Dennison

As discussed in my previous blog, Common Core standards, and related assessments coming down the pike have become a political tug of war. How will this tug of war affect teachers and what are some of the challenges they are facing with the Common Core?

Initially, well-intentioned, and hopefully end game results, are that students will be better prepared for college and career. But at this point many teachers feel that this is easier said than done. For example, it won’t be sufficient that students read well and write a sensible book report. In English, history, and science, students are going to be expected to evaluate evidence, form coherent arguments, state logical positions, read between the lines, and discern what an author truly means to say. “In math, they’ll be expected to know the “whys” of math as well as the practical skills of doing computations. They’ll struggle with difficult problems, show they can reason abstractly and apply the math they know to the problems of everyday life” (Goodman, 2013).

Brand new systems of assessments are expected to be introduced by the 2014-15 school year to all participating states (although participation numbers are dropping the closer we get to the 2014-15 school year). A number of states (including Indiana, Alabama, South Dakota, and Georgia) are either pulling back or considering doing so, and core supporters’ fear more states will withdraw as well before it’s all said and done.  A growing number of educators are complaining that states have done a poor job implementing the standards and are pushing core-aligned tests on students too early. Parents have started a campaign to “opt” their children out of the Common Core-aligned high-stakes standardized tests.

There are signs of the educational changes everywhere in regard to teacher preparation and teaching the Common Core standards. Across the Internet, many teachers and instructional experts are posting packages of lessons, or ideas for structuring lesson (often for free), to help teachers make the change. Yet only half the teachers recently surveyed by the publishers of Education Week said they were “prepared” or “very prepared” to teach the new standards. Their doubts grow larger when it comes to children with special needs and English language learners.

Other current and future challenging questions for teachers attempting to adapt the Common Core standards are as follows (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list):

1. What happens when politics within states decide to dismantle standards and/or coming PARCC/SBAC assessments?

Implementing the Common Core is certainly not free. “Those who wish to prevent implementation simply have to block new spending for the materials and assessments aligned to the standards. While anti-Common Core factions have failed in amending state code to prevent the Common Core from being used as standards for instruction, legislators in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have been able to block or at least delay its funding. If there's no funding, there's no implementation. If implementation is paused, what happens? Teachers are left in the lurch, not knowing what to teach, states are unsure about the waivers they received to No Child Left Behind's requirements and a year or two of children's education is lost while leaders develop a Plan B” (McShane, 2013).

2. Schools might not be ready to prepare teachers

Work to prepare new teachers to teach the standards will fall almost entirely on the more than 1,400 teacher preparation programs housed in universities across the country. Given the National Council on Teacher Quality's scathing indictment of these institutions as "an industry of mediocrity," there is reason to doubt they are up to the task. The 3.2 million teachers currently working in schools will rely on the bane of many a teacher's existence – professional development. Unfortunately, as the Institute for Education Science's review of the research on professional development found, "few rigorous studies address the effect of professional development on student achievement." For an intervention upon which we are going to rely so heavily (and spend so much on), we have precious little evidence that it will actually help. (McShane, 2013).

3. Who is in charge?

“The standards were developed by two organizations, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and they, along with a group of affiliated non-profits and foundations, worked to get the standards adopted. None of the organizations has any teeth to ensure that states live up to their commitments. If states lower their cut scores for students on the aligned assessments, who will hold them to account? Ceding state power to an organization that could be the very thing local control advocates fear. Failing to have a body that can hold states accountable could allow the same "50 states, 50 standards" problem that the Common Core was created to solve. Implementation is not fun to talk about, but the Common Core standards will undergird everything in the education system. Even if they are educationally sound, not implementing them with care could do more harm to children's education than good” (McShane, 2013).

4. What is “Common Core Aligned?”

“In order for students to be able to master the standards, teachers are going to need instructional materials – textbooks and supplementary resources like handouts and worksheets aligned to the standards. A simple Amazon search for "Common Core" yields over 32,000 results, the lion's share of which are guides or instructional materials for teachers labeled as "aligned to the Common Core." As it turns out, pretty much anyone can slap a "Common Core Aligned" sticker onto a textbook.  This presents two problems. First, if everything is "Common Core Aligned," nothing is Common Core aligned, and the effort to unify instruction will be diluted to meaninglessness. Second, if and when Common Core-aligned tests show poor performance, we will not be able to parse whether that reflects a lack of learning or if students were simply taught the wrong material” (McShane, 2013).

Do you feel prepared for the upcoming Common Core Standards?  Share with us what you are doing to help prepare.