Almost every state and Washington, D.C., has adopted the Common Core State Standards to help prepare students to succeed in college and careers and to thrive on a world stage.
In my thirty-plus years in education, I’ve never met a teacher who did not want precisely this outcome for his or her students and rarely have I met one who did not work tirelessly to achieve it. For most, teaching is not just a career, it’s a calling. Our teachers strive – every day – to provide the quality instruction students need for success in the classroom and in life.
Yet, exceptional and effective teaching is not the result of good intentions and hard work alone. According to the latest Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project findings, most of the lessons that teachers use with their students do not get at higher-order thinking and the types of complex skills demanded by the Common Core. Frankly, the kind of knowledge and skills a student needs to truly be ready for college and for their careers.
The MET project observed lessons in 3,000 U.S. public school teachers’ classrooms. We learned that classroom practice follows a remarkably consistent pattern: Teachers do a great job managing classroom time and student behavior. But their lessons aren’t generally as strong in areas such as problem solving, effective discussion and questioning techniques, intellectual challenge, and investigation.
The answer is not to blame teachers, which too often happens. The answer is to think about what they have not been afforded even though we know they are the most important factor in schools. As I discussed in a recent blog post, until now most states’ standards have not required students to demonstrate higher-order thinking. Consequently, teachers have not been receiving the meaningful feedback and professional development they need to understand what is and what is not helping to develop and spark this higher-order thinking among their students.
This may seem discouraging to some. But the fact is, through high-quality observation tools, we are gaining important new insights on how best to help give teachers the targeted supports they need and deserve – including those that will help them meet the higher demands of the Common Core. In addition, our MET project and additional efforts confirm that the vast majority of teachers are not only committed to teaching and to improving lives, they are also highly motivated to learn and grow as education professionals.
The MET findings should anchor school districts to the reality that they must invest in re-focused teacher development. This will be necessary to meet these higher demands. It is what we as a nation need to compete and prosper in the future. After all, if we limit teaching practices to what they have always been, we can’t reasonably expect better results for our kids.