Are teachers good and ready to implement the Common Core? (Transitioning to the Common Core, part 3)

This is the third post on how a handful of states are approaching accountability during the transition to the Common Core State Standards. We’ve learned that most are putting high-stakes accountability on hold and are treading carefully when it comes to assessments.

But real implementation occurs at the school and classroom level. So what do state officials say about their efforts to prepare educators to teach to the new standards?

They express conviction that teachers are being adequately prepared to teach the new standards (no surprise!). Yet the quality and effectiveness of Common Core trainings and professional development is unclear (ditto!).

In our interviews, stakeholders frequently referenced state-sponsored and state-recommended professional-development opportunities, trainings, and resources for teachers. They expressed confidence that teachers were being prepared adequately through these offerings. Yet missing was any discussion of whether and how states are assessing the effectiveness of these offerings. And if the quality of these supports is unclear, so is overall educator readiness.

In Massachusetts, for instance, officials stressed that educators were heavily involved in efforts to revise the state’s standards, curriculum, and assessments, all of which meld the Common Core and the state’s prior content standards. As was the case in other states, officials pointed to the copious support and training sessions made available to teachers and instructional leaders. They reported favorable responses from educators but nil about the quality of the trainings and resources. Fortunately, since Massachusetts’s prior standards are comparable in rigor to the Common Core standards, educators in the Bay State may be better positioned going into the transition than others. Similarly, the state does not expect the drop in student performance that other states will witness (or have already) post–Common Core transition.

New York is unique in that it is building a state-developed, Common Core–aligned, voluntary K–12 curriculum for both math and ELA. When asked about professional development and support for educators during the CCSS transition, stakeholders highlighted the availability of these comprehensive curricular resources, as well as recurring statewide trainings on the Common Core, which have been held quarterly for the past two and a half years. However, the shared curriculum materials are not yet fully complete, and teachers remain apprehensive. Will the remaining materials be ready in time to prepare their students adequately? After transitioning to a completely new, Common Core–aligned state assessment last school year, student scores dropped noticeably. One stakeholder referred to the drastic drop in test results, released in August 2012, as “alarming” and “confusing” to teachers. Officials were quick to stress that the drop was likely the result of a rise in standards rather than a decline in student performance. However, though New York has made impressive strides on the curriculum front, it’s hard to know whether teachers are actually prepared to teach the standards.

Similarly, education officials we spoke to in Florida emphasized that professional development is and will continue to be a focus during the transition to the Common Core. Reportedly, Common Core–related trainings have elicited positive responses from teachers as well as high attendance, seemingly the primary indicators of quality.

State education agencies appear to be positioning themselves as large-scale leaders of Common Core implementation by providing general direction, guidance, and troubleshooting (for example, how to include results from new assessments in existing accountability systems). While we are reluctant to advocate for any single form of professional development and training (some states choose to handle it themselves, while others leave it to districts), we encourage state education agencies not to be naïve about whether educators are truly prepared, especially when it comes to content and curriculum. The stakes are obvious; if educators are not fully trained to teach to the new standards, the Common Core will not succeed in its ultimate goal: improving students’ college and career readiness.

For other entries in this blog series, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.

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