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Common Core Contradictions and Challenges

At the recent Council of Chief State School Officers convening for Implementing Common Core Standards Network, we had an opportunity to hear an early report on William Schmidt's research on teachers' sense of readiness for Common Core standards. Schmidt's research may challenge states' thinking and planning for supporting implementation.

While nearly 50 percent of elementary, 60 percent of middle school, and 70 percent of high school teachers feel prepared to teach common core standards, only 25 percent of teachers indicated that they would eliminate teaching key concepts if the standards assigned those concepts to different levels of instruction.

These two pieces of information present a challenge and a contradiction to those responsible for planning and implementing professional learning for common core standards, and it speaks to a need for professional learning that reaches beyond knowledge and skills and moves into disposition and practice.

Common core standards call for "game changing" shifts in not only what students are expected to know and do, but also major shifts in how teachers design and facilitate instruction, and how principals support teachers to make the shifts. One way to begin this work is to focus on a vision for teaching and learning for 2015 and beyond, when the standards will be fully implemented.

Promoting more substantive conversation about the role of the school, teacher, technology, student, and community in the learning progression is one way to focus professional learning. The continued focus on how the new standards are only slightly different than previous ones or on how small adjustments in existing curriculum and standards will bring the new standards to fruition merely masks the hard work ahead.

Teachers need opportunities for cross-level dialogue and uncovering their own assumptions, especially those that enhance their sense of efficacy and responsibility as part of an instructional team. In addition, both teachers and principals need opportunities for open dialogue about the temporary ambiguity that surrounds all implementation phases.

To examine and shift dispositions, teachers and principals can work side-by-side in grade-level and cross-grade level teams to design multi-year curricula, and concept maps to use for designing grade-level units and lessons. While the authentic engagement in dialogue, ongoing conversations, and substantive collaborative work may be challenging at first, the greater the challenge, the deeper the understanding, the more likely teachers will acquire another essential disposition—collaboration with peers is a part of a professional responsibility.

Those responsible for professional learning, teachers, principals, district, state, institutes of higher education, and other organizations, associations, and agencies must read the common core standards and Standards for Professional Learning as a guide to their work. The common core standards emphasize authentic application of knowledge and skills, not acquisition of knowledge and skills. Yet still, too much professional learning focuses insufficiently on application and too much on knowledge acquisition. Professional learning then too must focus on constructing, analyzing, and adapting authentic instructional resources, units, lessons, and formative assessments, support their implementation, engage teachers and principals in using evidence, feedback, and student data to analyze their effectiveness and undertake revisions of the work. Without early emphasis on authentic application even in the early phases of professional learning, teachers and principals will be shortchanged in their professional learning.

What will have the greatest effect on implementation is sound, continuous, intensive professional learning that builds teachers and principals' expertise over the next five to 10 years. As the Standards for Professional Learning remind us, this learning must be goal-focused, collaborative in nature, facilitated by teachers and administrative leaders jointly, based on data, designed based on research, theories, and models of learning, sustain implementation for multiple years, and focus on outcomes for educators and students.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

Joellen Killion
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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