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Common Core panel urges thoughtful implementation

A roundtable discussion on the opening day of the AFT TEACH Conference revealed how diverse voices find common threads when it comes to thoughtful, well-supported implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Common Core panel

From left, Cynthia Liu, Kay Wait and Mary Cathryn Ricker

Moderated by AFT vice president Mary Cathryn Ricker, who is also president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, the session showcased comments from teachers, a test development specialist, the leader of a California parent advocacy group and an Ohio state legislator—stakeholders who look at the Common Core through very distinct lenses but often come to similar conclusions surrounding the new standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the speakers emphasized that there are no cheap fixes or easy workarounds when it comes to sound implementation—it has to be done well for this latest foray into standards-based reform to work.

Among the specifics the panelists called for were time for teachers to delve deeply into the new standards and collaborate on them, and exceptional professional development and resources that can transform the Common Core into effective strategies for the classroom. Communities also need to be knowledgeable about the Common Core and informed early about the fundamental changes they will bring to daily classroom life. And lawmakers must be ready to lead by advancing policies that match high expectations for children and teachers with high support.

Peggy Brookins

Peggy Brookins

"You should demand good professional development," said Peggy Brookins, a National Board-certified teacher from Marion, Fla. Prospects for success with the Common Core are real, she said. "The places you see it are those where people have been thoroughly trained," said Brookins, who has worked with writers of the new math standards.

Toledo, Ohio, teacher Kay Wait explained how teacher leaders and her school district moved early when it came to Common Core implementation. Training and alignment of curriculum and materials began in Toledo four years ago in grades K-2, with additional grades added each year. Today, 1,000 teachers in the district have received some Common Core training. This effort has been worthwhile and remains ongoing, said Wait, who is a district instruction planner for the Toledo Federation of Teachers. "Even in our situation, teachers don't feel they know everything they need to know," but the district's experience has shown "teachers really need the time to understand and to implement the Common Core to be successful."

A parent's perspective was offered by Cynthia Liu, founder and CEO of K-12 News Network and a leading parent advocate for strong California public schools. For Californians, there have been constructive developments in education of late—additional resources, for example, and new laws designed to create a seamless preK-21 delivery system. The Common Core also holds promise for excellence and equity, but parents are rightly concerned about testing associated with it. "A lot more needs to be done in terms of the testing piece," said Liu, citing concerns about student privacy, the inordinate amount of time devoted to assessments, and the profit factor. After years of severe underfunding, Californians "understand that we're just getting out of a starvation diet, and we don't want it to turn into just another payday for 'ed tech'" when it comes to resources that might go to testing rather than services.

Stuart Kahl

Stuart Kahl

Stuart Kahl, the founding principal of the testing company Measured Progress, also weighed in on the assessment piece of Common Core, with remarks that strongly cautioned against those who equate testing with school reform. He noted that the two major consortia developing tests for the new standards had scaled back their original, ambitious plans. Although the assessments ultimately should be an improvement over the status quo, they will never be anything close to a magic bullet for instilling school improvement based on deep investigation and critical thinking. "They are going to attend to the higher-order schools, but they are not going to go as far as people would like," Kahl said of the new tests, adding that he would like to see more true teacher-designed formative tests that are project-based and embedded into class life.

Teresa Fedor

Teresa Fedor

"Implementation is so critical, and your voices are the key" to improving the process, Ohio legislator Teresa Fedor told the TEACH audience. A former classroom teacher, Fedor is working to see that Ohio does not waste the opportunity, announced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to postpone evaluating teachers using assessments tied to Common Core standards. The announcement came after the AFT's call for a moratorium on high stakes prompted more than 70,000 teachers, parents and concerned citizens to email the Education Department. Those voices are still needed at the state level, particularly in a state like Ohio, where reckless expansion of charter schools in recent years has produced "reform fatigue." For the state to move forward, "bipartisanship and real leadership are needed," the legislator said—something that requires grass-roots involvement in decision-making.

Ricker, who observed that the AFT's call for a moratorium on Common Core-related high stakes had sparked "a groundswell" of action at the grass roots, said it was a reflection of members' strong feelings on this keystone issue. Polls show that about 3 out of 4 AFT teachers support Common Core standards, but only about 1 in 4 believe they have the tools necessary to implement them effectively. She urged the audience, the AFT and its partners around the country to stay vocal and engaged in this vital issue. [Mike Rose/photos by Michael Campbell and Bill Burke-Page One]

July 23, 2013