Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teachers still feel unprepared for Common Core, group rates textbooks for alignment to standards

The Common Core State Standards, a set of requirements outlining what students should learn each year in school, were designed by states to help standardize and improve education across the U.S. As states adjust to the new system, some are calling for modifications, teachers are trying to prepare and public opinion of the project is sliding.

Some states are taking education into their own hands, modifying the standards or creating their own. In at least 12 states, lawmakers are trying to set their own standards. "In several states, legislators have placed new restrictions on state boards of education, which typically write and update academic standards," Lyndsey Layton writes for The Washington Post. "In others, lawmakers have opened up the development of standards to greater scrutiny, requiring that proposals received public vetting."

A law in Oklahoma allows them to modify any standards they don't like. Originally they planned to get rid of the standards altogether, but "It's just completely an overreaction for state legislatures to believe they can develop and manage and implement academic standards," said Reggie Felton of the National School Boards Association. "They don't have the capacity to do that." However, Indiana and South Carolina officials have scrapped the Common Core, which would have been set in motion this year, Layton writes.

In April, Wisconsin lawmakers tried to pass a similar law, but the state's schools superintendent campaigned against the idea. "This bill would hand over what is taught in our schools to partisan politics," Superintendent Tony Evers wrote in a public plea. Nelson disagrees; he said though academic standards have always been political, the state's new legislation will help democratize the process.

"According to Daniel Thatcher, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures who has been tracking the issue, 12 states passed 14 laws since 2013 that change the way state academic standards are adopted. In most cases, the laws add the number of people who must review and approve of new academic standards, he said," Layton writes.

In Missouri, a new law dictates that the state board of education has to make "work groups" to review the standards and report findings to the Speaker of the House and the Senate president. In Utah, the state board of education must publicize potential standards on a website and invite public discussion. (Read more)

As for the states still striving to meet the standards, it's important to note that many teachers still feel inadequately prepared for Common Core, and a new group of experts will post free online reviews of textbooks used for the standards. The Education Week Research Center surveyed a diverse group of 457 teachers and asked them to express how prepared they feel to teach the using the Common Core, Catherin Gewertz writes for Education Week. Respondents answered on a scale from 1 ("not at all prepared") to 5 ("very prepared"). Fewer than half of the teachers gave themselves 4s or 5s. However, though last year's report showed that 71 percent of teachers attended professional development or training for the Common Core, this year 87 percent attended such training.

The preparedness drops when it comes to teaching students with more challenges. "Fewer than four in 10 teachers said they felt well prepared to teach the common core to students who were from low-income families or were academically at-risk," Gewertz writes. Even fewer reported confidence in teaching students with disabilities or those learning English.

Another concern is the quality and alignment of curriculum. "Nearly six in 10 said their main curricular materials were not aligned to the new standards," Gewertz reports. (Read more) Soon there may at least be a reliable and widely accessible way for teachers to know which book and materials align well to the standards. A group called "Consumer Reports for school materials" will soon post free reviews of major textbooks that claim to be aligned with the Common Core, Liana Heitin writes for Education Week.

The nonprofit organization, which is now called, is comprised of 19 educators—and half of them are classroom teachers. They will begin with 21 series for K-8 mathematics then work on K-12 English/language arts curricula. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wililam and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust are funding the project. "This kind of information is just desperately needed," said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California. "There's just no question there's immense demand right now."

According to another survey by the Education Week Research Center, fewer than one-third of educators have access to high-quality textbooks aligned with the standards. Other groups offer textbook evaluation services, but usually for a fee. will be free and available to a larger audience. "Our hope is these reviews will influence purchasing decisions, . . . and one of our greatest aspirations is that publishers will look at these and that [their] materials will continue to improve," said Eric Hirsch, the recently appointed executive director of (Read more)

More and more people have become aware of the Common Core State Standards and what they mean for education, and support for the standards is dropping. According to a Gallup poll, 56 percent of Americans think school boards should have the most influence on what students learn in public schools, while only 15 percent think the federal government should have the most influence. Approximately eight in 10 Americans know something about the Common Core, and 59 percent are opposed to them, while only 33 percent favor them. (Read more)

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