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It Takes a City: Building Blocks, Builders, and Tools Are Needed for Real Instructional Reform

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

All of us move in multiple professional, social, and familial circles, many of them overlapping. So, it's no surprise that in a lot of the circles I travel in conversations about Common Core State Standards are, well, common — from colleagues working in DC policy organizations, to AFT members in the field, to friends who are active parents with school-aged kids. The conversations differ by vantage point. Policy types might discuss the coming assessment changes, while teachers might reflect on how they used the practices and lessons introduced in summer professional development. Most often, though, it's pretty clear that Common Core implementation is underway. With all that is expected — demanded — of educators today, and with many of our high hopes for and strong belief in the standards, it's tempting to stay focused in that critical "get it done" here and now. With CCSS, as with so much else, it's not just about getting it done, but getting it done right. And getting it done right requires conviction, knowledge, resources, and tools by, for, and with all the key players. Common Core standards provide some weighty blocks for building schools that prepare all students for college and career, but it takes a lot of builders, too.

This Transforming Learning blog alone has had several posts on CCSS and roles for key stakeholders, including my earlier post on teachers' roles and, most recently, Sharon Robinson of AACTE's post on the part played by teacher preparation institutions. Some of the most critical stakeholders, particularly from the perspective of sustainability, are parents and the community beyond the school. They need entry points into the Common Core conversation and real tools to help young people and schools succeed with new teaching and learning challenges. One terrific new example is parent letters for mathematics developed by AFT's math teacher review team. Each letter addresses a new standard, defines new vocabulary parents or caregivers might see in their students' homework, explains the underlying mathematical idea, and offers suggestions for "family practices" — easy to construct ways to reinforce the in-school learning. So far, there are 10 parent letters spanning grades K-5 and more will be developed throughout the year. Current content includes counting, place value, multiplication, and fractions. They're free and designed to be downloaded, formatted, and personalized by individual schools and teachers.

Even as new tools and supports are developed, it's not always easy to find them and be able to use them to maximum effect. With that in mind, AFT recently partnered with the National PTA in two webinars on Facilitating a Conversation between Parents and Schools about the CCSS. The webinars were designed to support teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents themselves in leading Common Core conversations. Resources discussed included "Communicating to Parents about the Common Core," "Facilitating A Conversation about the Common Core," and the National PTA's Common Core video. In building engagement in and support for the instructional shifts being experienced by both teachers and students, it's also important to remember how they affect particular groups of students, such as with this introduction to resources on English Language Learners and the Common Core, developed through AFT's partnership with ColorĂ­n Colorado.

Parents, families, and communities are key to the success of Common Core, but they also have a broader role to play in defining, advocating for, and sustaining meaningful change and building bottom-up solutions to all of the challenges facing our schools. This fall, AFT announced partnerships with parent and community groups to hold town hall meetings, workshops, and other events in more than ten cities around the country. In too many places, teacher and parent and community voices have been shut out of the debate on how to transform public schools, particularly those that are least successful. This effort is designed to show the power of an alternative approach. You can read about the vision for and partners in this effort here. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform is documenting all the conversations and will produce a report summarizing the findings.


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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