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Connecting the Dots on Common Core

December 03, 2012

Last week, labor-management teams from 15 cities gathered in Providence for a first-ever meeting sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers to help align the new Common Core State Standards with teacher development and evaluation systems. Two important lessons emerged from this gathering.

One: let’s be honest about the enormous changes we’re asking of teachers. The new standards require big shifts in classroom instruction, including building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction; reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from the text; and regular practice with complex texts and academic language. In mathematics, the standards ask teachers to focus on fewer things deeply, so that students are fluent in mathematical procedures, deeply understand math concepts, and can apply both to new situations. And all that’s being implemented at the same time as new teacher development and evaluation systems that, for the first time, use multiple measures to seriously examine performance and provide teachers with better feedback.

These are not small technical changes with clear cut solutions. They are big, adaptive changes that require shifts in practice and culture on the part of everyone—not just teachers. And teachers shouldn’t have to do it alone.

As Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT said in her plenary remarks, “Just rhetorically adapting the Common Core standards will not improve teaching and learning. They must be thoroughly implemented and integrated with teacher development, teacher evaluation systems, curriculum and assessments. This is part of the continuing improvement process that is essential for high-quality teaching. It’s a big change, and we have to get this right.”

Moreover, these changes are happening at the same time that the economic downturn is putting tremendous pressure on state and district budgets.

The AFT, at least, is stepping up to the plate. During the meeting, teams from local districts in New York State and Rhode Island—including Cranston and West Warwick—described how they are implementing new teacher growth and evaluation systems that teachers helped create; and how they are now integrating those systems with the Common Core. Leaders from Marlboro, N.Y, described how grade-level teacher teams are writing Common Core-aligned lessons. And teachers got a first-hand look at, an AFT site that offers free, on-line lessons created by teachers for teachers, so that they can inspire, share, and exchange practices to help all students reach the new standards. The AFT also has created guides to help teachers determine whether curriculum materials are aligned to the standards; sample letters introducing parents to specific Common Core topics; and a bookmark for teachers highlighting the standards for mathematical practices.

Which brings me to the second lesson: Both the Common Core and the new teacher development and evaluation systems hold tremendous promise for America’s schools. But the work to get there is going to require deep collaboration—and patience—on the part of all of us. These are not overnight fixes. The AFT meeting included both union leaders and school administrators who are willing to work together to do what it takes for America’s kids. And for that we should be grateful.

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