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States Need to Provide the Right Tools for Teachers

Findings from the latest ACT National Curriculum Survey show that the Common Core State Standards fail to prepare students for college, Restore Oklahoma Public Education Co-founder Jenni White claims on the Heartland Institute’s website.

White quotes Ze’ev Wurman, an outspoken critic of the Common Core, who says: “The whole certification process of Common Core [was] a sham… Having been written by unqualified people with barely any record or experience with K–12 education, it is unsurprising they have failed.”

But White’s – and Wurman’s – claims show nothing more than a continued vendetta against the Common Core. As we’ve corrected numerous times recently, “A closer look at the survey, the research and the motivations behind it, as well as the evidence from the states, suggest the findings offer little more than fodder for opponents still bent on seeing the demise of the Common Core.”

According to the ACT survey, 85 percent of elementary teachers say they still teach topics not included in the Common Core. About 40 percent of teachers say they have only slightly changed their instruction, a rate even higher among high school teachers.

But educators’ slow acclimation to the Common Core is largely a result of inadequate professional development, which is necessary to help teachers adjust their instruction to meet the new demands. A RAND Corporation study this spring found just 28 percent of math teachers and 31 percent of ELA teachers believe PD opportunities available to them reflect their needs.

Similarly, a Center for Education Policy study in 2014 found only two-thirds of school districts provided professional development training to 90 percent or more of their teachers. A poll of urban Georgia schools shows only two out of 10 teachers are very familiar with the Common Core, and one in four received no training on how to teach to the standards.

“Teachers are hungry for guidance,” one educator told Education Week recently. That certainly seems to be the case. Teachers are looking for support necessary to help students achieve to higher expectations. That doesn’t indicate a defect in the Common Core, as opponents like White allege, but rather that states need to step up assistance to teachers.

Separately, Wurman’s claim the Common Core was written by “unqualified people” with no experience in education is flat-out wrong. The standards were developed by experts and educators from across the country. Most states then voluntarily adopted the standards because they marked an improvement in rigor, clarity and quality, and because they provide greater comparability across states.

As Mike Petrilli explained previously, it is impossible to develop education standards that fully prepare students for college and careers, and that bear no resemblance to the Common Core. “That’s because Common Core, though not perfect, represents a good-faith effort to incorporate the current evidence of what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in credit-bearing courses in college or to land a good-paying job.”

Initial evidence indicates the Common Core is working, too. Having adopted rigorous standards and high-quality assessments, states have begun to close the “Honesty Gap.” States have overwhelmingly raised their proficiency benchmarks, and early adopter states like Tennessee have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country.

That may be why educators continue to have a lot of confidence in the Common Core. A Harvard study this year found about three-quarters of teachers have embraced the Common Core “quite a bit” or “fully,” and more than two-thirds of principals believe the standards will improve student learning. Even the ACT study indicates many teachers have a “relatively positive and realistic sense” of the standards’ potential to help more students graduate high school prepared for college and careers.

“Despite concerted efforts to derail implementation of Common Core State Standards and the high-quality assessments that support them, states have weighed the evidence and opted to build on the framework set by these rigorous, comparable education standards,” Jim Cowen wrote recently. “If there were any question remaining, it seems to be firmly resolved: states are sticking with higher standards based on the Common Core.”

About the Collaborative for Student Success

At our core, we believe leaders at all levels have a role to play in ensuring success for K-12 students. From ensuring schools and teachers are equipped with the best materials to spotlighting the innovative and bold ways federal recovery dollars are being used to drive needed changes, the Collaborative for Student Success aims to inform and amplify policies making a difference for students and families.

To recover from the most disruptive event in the history of American public schools, states and districts are leveraging unprecedented resources to make sure classrooms are safe for learning, providing students and teachers with the high-quality instructional materials they deserve, and are rethinking how best to measure learning so supports are targeted where they’re needed most. 

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