Changes in teacher practices throughout the Common Core era

A recent RAND report examines how math and English language arts teachers’ use of instructional materials and knowledge of state standards and standards-aligned practices have changed during the Common Core era.

Researchers Julia H. Kaufman, V. Darleen Opfer, Michelle Bongard, and Joseph D. Pane used the results of surveys administered in 2015, 2016, and 2017 to the American Teacher Panel (ATP), a randomly-selected, nationally-representative group of full-time K–12 public school teachers. Responses from different years were aggregated, and then disaggregated, based on whether a teacher’s state referenced Common Core in its standards and/or used standards-aligned resources, as well as by students’ “vulnerability” (determined by the percentage who received free or reduced-price lunch, were English language learners, or had individualized education plans). The authors also controlled for teacher characteristics such as gender and professional experience, as well as school characteristics such as size and the student population’s overall socioeconomic status.

In many ways, the RAND report is similar to Fordham’s own: Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools. In particular, both used the American Teacher Panel (though not the exact same teachers). And both sought to capture changes in teachers’ attitudes and practices, though the timelines differed, since we compared teachers 2017 responses to their baseline responses from 2012. Unlike Fordham, however, RAND surveyed math teachers in addition to ELA teachers.

In both math and ELA, Kaufman and team found that teachers reported few changes in the textbooks they used between 2015 and 2017. However, they did find an increase in math and ELA teachers’ use of online materials. Encouragingly, although un-vetted sites like Pinterest and Teacherspayteachers.com remained popular over the three years, educators also reported increased use of websites featuring Common Core–aligned or content-specific materials, such as CoreStandards.org, NewsELA.org, and AchievetheCore.org, especially in states that stuck with the standards.

At the same time, teachers also reported using many options that weren’t aligned with the Common Core. For example, there was a significant increase in reliance on leveled-reading materials by ELA educators, from 17 percent in 2015 to 31 percent in 2017. This is consistent with the findings of Fordham’s report. Even though the ELA standards emphasize teaching with grade-level texts rather than materials that vary based on an individuals’ reading level, only a quarter of the teachers in the RAND survey correctly identified “assigning complex texts that all students in a class are required to read” as a teaching technique aligned with their standards.

Teachers also reported an overall decrease in their use of math Common Core standards-based practices, such as, “Choose and use appropriate tools when solving a problem,” though these changes were not major. These decreases were only significant when comparing low-vulnerability students to their high-vulnerability peers. High-vulnerability teachers only reported decreased use of one of the standards-based practices—perhaps due to the greater emphasis on accountability in those schools.

Because the authors adjusted the survey after its initial implementation in 2015, teachers’ responses to some questions could only be observed for 2016 and 2017—making trends difficult to establish. Yet despite this caveat, the report offers additional insight into how the Common Core era has been implemented across the country. The results are decidedly mixed.

Source: Julia H. Kaufman, V. Darleen Opfer, Michelle Bongard, and Joseph D. Pane, “Changes in What Teachers Know and Do in the Common Core Era: American Teacher Panel Findings from 2015 to 2017,” RAND Corporation (2018).