Society and Culture, Education

Who’ll teach teachers the Common Core?

Dispatches from a nervous Common Core observer (part 4 of 10)
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Note: this is part 4 of a ten-part series on the Common Core.  For part three, see here.

Building on my discussion of Common Core aligned materials yesterday, today I want to talk about Common Core aligned instruction.

In order to align with the Common Core, teachers are going to need to teach new content and new skills. From utilizing evidence from text to back up arguments in English language arts to developing a conceptual understanding of place values, ratios, and other elements of mathematics, meaningful shifts are going to need to be made.

How exactly are we going to get teachers up to speed on the new content and skills? It looks like we have two major levers to help teachers master Common Core instruction: schools of education and professional development. However, recent research and commentary gives me pause when I think of how much we are going to rely on them.

Schools of Education

First, we need to prepare new teachers to teach the Common Core standards. This work will fall almost entirely on the 1,400+ teacher preparation programs housed in universities across the country.

In this summer’s issue of Education Next, Kate Walsh, the President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, has an eye-opening article about teacher preparation. In it, she enumerates several specific skills that teachers will need to effectively teach the Common Core. In mathematics, for example, teachers will need “a fluid and conceptual understanding of numbers systems in all of their representations.” The problem? Based on NCTQ’s surveying, 75% of teacher preparation programs are not teaching pre-service teachers this.

Why? Walsh argues that schools of education have moved from a training model (like we see in law and medicine) to a formation model, where the acquisition of a particular skill set is less important than the development of a worldview and orientation towards the transformative power of education. I have no desire to wade into that debate beyond simply stating that there appears to be a set of skills and a body of knowledge necessary to teach the Common Core, and if schools of education are reticent to teach that to pre-service teachers, we’ve got a problem on our hands.

Now, I have no doubt that some schools of education are ramping up and preparing new teachers to teach the Common Core, but remember, there are over 1,400 teacher preparation programs in America. We have to be realistic about the likelihood that they will reorient themselves.

Professional Development

Second, we need to bring the 3.2 million teachers currently working in schools up to speed. In order to do that, schools and districts are going to need to rely on professional development.

The need is great. According to a survey conducted by the Council of Great City Schools, there are serious gaps in preparation to teach the Common Core standards. Forty percent of the respondents to that survey estimated that less than 40% of school level staff had sufficient knowledge about the standards to discuss the implications for classroom instruction.

The problem? In a 2007 review of the evidence on professional development, the Institute for Education Sciences found that only nine — nine! — of the more than 1,300 published studies of professional development met their standard for evidence. From those nine studies, the only positive findings came from programs that lasted more than 14 hours, quite a tall order for cash-strapped school districts and time-crunched teachers.

Doug Lemov, author of the best-selling Teach Like A Champion, offers a laundry list of issues with professional development in a recent paper that was part of AEI’s Roadmap for Education Reform series. He argues that most professional development is offered by outsiders with little respect for the culture or management of the school and little follow up. It marginalizes the role of teachers by becoming something done to them, not with them and values new trends in presentation and thinking over real useful pedagogical strategies.

If these are the two levers we’re going to rely on, I’m nervous. If colleges of education have an ideological opposition to the kind of methods training necessary to teach new teachers the Common Core, these teachers will not be ready when they get to the classroom. If the majority of professional development that we do is ineffective, and we’re relying on it to get existing teachers up to speed, they are in trouble too. I don’t like the look of that.

If you think I’m crazy or missing some important development in either of these fields, feel free to let me know in the comments below or over on twitter (I’m @mq_mcshane).

*Again, my thinking on this owes a debt of gratitude to Morgan Polikoff’s paper on teacher quality from our Common Core conference. He might not agree with me on all of these points, but I thank him for prodding my thinking along.

2 thoughts on “Who’ll teach teachers the Common Core?

  1. The Common Core Initiative begs the question that everyone should learn the same thing. Even worse it assumes what everyone should know. Worse still, it assumes that anybody must know some things. Until they can prove these premises, definitively in the affirmative, I will continue to believe that the Common Core will produce a generation of adults who will be utterly unprepared for the future.

    Texas and Nebraska choose not to adopt the common core. In Texas, there has been a marked shift in the legislature towards returning curriculum and graduation standards back to individual districts. It will be interesting to watch going forward, as forty eight states serve up uniform servings of the SOS to their youth while Texas and Nebraska follow the path of catering to individual communities and individual learners.

  2. “In Texas, there has been a marked shift in the legislature towards returning curriculum and graduation standards back to individual districts. ”

    I dream of a voucher system and a success ranking system so that the grand experiment can move forward. This way we will be able to determine education approaches that work.

    Top down dictates from federal and state governments will never be satisfactory. The grand experiment employing parental choice will lead us out of the troubles we have today.

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