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Common Core Implementation Requires Building Educator Capacity

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By Tracy Crow, Director of Communications for Learning Forward

The Common Core standards were a popular topic at Education Nation earlier this week. Folks in the Teacher Town hall talked about them, there was a panel devoted to the topic, and the standards came up as part of many other discussions.

The audience at Education Nation seemed optimistic about their ability to implement Common core. One teacher spoke at the microphone about how the shift to Common Core wasn't that much of a change. However, recent studies indicate that many teachers don't feel quite so prepared. In Primary Sources: 2012, the massive teacher survey from Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 22% of respondents feel "very prepared" to teach the Common Core standards, while 51% are "somewhat prepared" and 27% indicated they are "somewhat" or "very unprepared." Further, a majority of respondents indicated the need for professional development on the requirements of the standards and how to change instruction.

Fortunately, there is widespread acknowledgement that Common Core implementation will require significant time and attention to building educator capacity. This was evident at Education Nation through many comments about the necessity of professional learning for implementation. This acknowledgement is also obvious from the web sites of most major education organizations and state departments of education, many of whom are developing and providing resources and learning modules.

It is encouraging how many stakeholders recognize that when we ask educators to shift what they teach and how they teach, we must acknowledge that they'll need deep and sustained professional learning to build new knowledge and skills. There are few professions that would ask employees to undertake an entirely new approach to doing their work without some kind of training and support.

Carefully examining the quality, design, and intended outcomes of professional learning is the next essential step. Traditional professional development won't suffice for the kinds of instructional shifts new content standards will require, as well as the more rigorous content demands the standards place on adult and student learners. Sustained, job-embedded, collaborative learning opportunities are critical to support the deep learning adults need. Teachers and principals need time during the work week to study student work and assessment data with their colleagues, learn about and consider new instructional approaches, and discuss what is working and what isn't. Educators also need the support of external expertise from within or beyond the district when knowledge about new content and instruction doesn't reside in the building.

The need for high-quality professional learning will be fulfilled when stakeholders from the state level to the classroom level align their goals and strategies. This has an impact on every stage of implementation, from planning to resource allocation to evaluation. As part of its work to support the development of a comprehensive statewide professional learning system to support Common Core implementation, Learning Forward is working with educators at the school, school system, and state levels to create meaningful and aligned professional learning. Funded by the Sandler Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this project is called Transforming Professional Learning to Prepare College- and Career-Ready Students: Implementing the Common Core. (Learn more about the project here.)

Among the products created as part of the project, the brief Meet the Promise of Content Standards: Professional Learning Required outlines the importance of high-quality professional learning as well as recommendations for stakeholder actions to enact comprehensive professional learning.

Now that so many stakeholders have publicly declared their support and demand for professional learning for implementation, the time is ripe to ensure its effectiveness.

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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