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There is Much to Get Right...or Wrong...About the Common Core

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Stakeholder Involvement is Key

By Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, Assistant to the President for Educational Issues, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Last week, the AFT, along with many other organizations and individuals, submitted comments to the Department of Education on the proposed guidance for the District Race to the Top (RTTT) program. There are pieces to applaud in this draft guidance. Evidence of union engagement in proposal development and incorporation of teacher feedback into districts' final applications are positive signs that the Department understands that collaboration matters on the ground; however, there is still more that needs to be fleshed out. For the AFT, a larger question is whether districts have the capacity to successfully implement all elements of district RTTT (which include state RTTT requirements and more) in addition to all of the other U.S. Department of Education requirements. Teachers and school staff know all too well that it takes capacity, as well as collaboration, to create complex and meaningful change. Many districts — and school staff — are already struggling to bear the weight of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and, soon, assessments; putting teacher evaluations systems into place; improving data-informed decision making; and effectively supporting low-performing schools.

AFT has long been a supporter of higher common standards and expectations for all students, regardless of ZIP code. We believe in the potential of the CCSS for English language arts and math to truly deepen learning for all students, particularly given the strong role of teachers — our members prominent among them — in their development and design. But from the outset, we've maintained that the standards themselves would only be as good as the system that supports them: quality curricula and classroom resources (including state-of-the-art online tools); meaningful sustained professional development; time for teachers and other staff to adapt to the new standards; aligned and timely assessments that support college and career readiness and inform instruction; and participation of family and community stakeholders in the awareness building, advocacy, and support needed for the standards to truly change teaching and learning.

In 2010, AFT convened an Ad Hoc Committee on Standards Rollout that developed recommendations from union leaders, classroom teachers, higher education members and other educators on the best approaches to implementing the standards. Since before that, an AFT team of expert teachers, now numbering more than 80, has been systematically working on all aspects of CCSS development and implementation. Members of this team continue to collaborate regularly, including now the assessment consortia and the developers of the Next Generation Science Standards. Many more are doing this work at the local level.

We see teachers and other school staff as the frontline stakeholders in CCSS implementation, but the engagement must go well beyond — to districts, parents, and communities, and local and national partners. Through the AFT's Innovation Fund, Chicago, IL and Albuquerque, NM are two places engaging a variety of stakeholders around CCSS: Chicago Teachers Union is leading the effort by partnering with district leadership around the design of units that include instruction and performance assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The units will focus on K-3 math, elementary interdisciplinary content, adolescent and young adulthood math, career and technical education, and English language arts. Albuquerque Teachers Federation is developing research-based professional development materials and model curricula that will help teachers of English language learners implement the Common Core State Standards. The project, a partnership with PBS-affiliate WETA, will focus on teaching ELLs in grades 1, 4 and 8.

Many observers are lauding the Cleveland Public Schools and the Cleveland Teachers Union, and their well-developed approach to implementation of and engagement around CCSS. They are partnering with the school district, recognizing that there must be stronger labor management and community stakeholder engagement, as well as time for teachers, if we are to get this right. In Volusia County, educators are working to move new math professional development from a school-wide pilot to a broader implementation. They are serving as a demonstration school for other schools in the district. Broader engagement and implementation efforts are happening at the national level, as well. This summer at AFT's TEACH Summer Academy, where members from across the country reinforce their skills and knowledge to provide high quality professional development in their locals, we will roll out reading and math courses that have been completely revamped and realigned to CCSS — all with input from teacher-trainers. At the end of this month, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we will convene multi-stakeholder teams from more than a dozen districts committed to collaborating to get standards done right this time.

These examples are heartening, even exciting, in both their educational impact and collaborative approach. But we must be mindful that doing so much at once — as one example, think about aligning new teacher evaluation systems, and the skills of evaluators, with these efforts to teach to the CCSS — will take time, training, and care. Without patience from policymakers and advocacy from stakeholders for the tools and time that teachers, students, families, and schools need to succeed, we will undermine not only the CCSS, but public education itself.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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