05/17/2013

AFT panels focus on sound Common Core rollout

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AFT leaders and educators from Quincy, Ill., and Cleveland detailed some of the supports and resources needed for sound implementation of Common Core standards at a May 10 panel discussion hosted by the Learning First Alliance in Washington, D.C.

The two school districts were featured in a session moderated by AFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence at the Learning First Alliance's annual membership meeting—two days of discussion and presentations that explored ways public education can set bold agendas for collaborative leadership. Teams from both districts highlighted the deliberate, thoughtful approach that their systems have taken to putting Common Core standards in place. Both districts, Lawrence stressed, illustrate how critical it is for public education to give schools and districts the opportunity for "a midcourse correction" in Common Core implementation—free of high-stakes sanctions that can undermine the standards themselves if introduced prematurely, a message that AFT president Randi Weingarten made the focus of a major policy address this spring.

Sound introduction of the Common Core "is a process of implementation, feedback and revision," Lawrence reminded the audience. "You need to take the time to get it right."

Public outreach and education around the new standards has been a major focus in Quincy, Ill., where the Quincy Federation of Teachers, supported by an AFT Innovation Fund grant, has worked with a broad swath of the community—including parents, daycare providers, higher education faculty and staff, and businesses—to explain Common Core standards and their implication for deeper learning. The work includes fliers, public service announcements and community forums that have drawn audiences in the hundreds. Also key to the process has been the online site committothecore.org, which offers resources for teachers, parents, students and the Quincy community.

Polling in Quincy at the beginning of the process showed that 75 percent of respondents did not know what the Common Core standards were. Follow-up polling is being conducted this month, and, based on preliminary evidence, Marilyn Smith, a mentor teacher-leader in Quincy public schools, expects solid improvement in those numbers. A key to this effort, the teacher emphasized, is that outreach around the Common Core in Quincy is targeted to "the community support system, not just the parents. … We definitely know the community has become more aware and supportive."

Time and school-embedded resources that educators need to do their best with Common Core standards has been a focus of efforts in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. The school system has partnered with the Cleveland Teachers Union in implementing the Common Core standards, which were used in grades K-2 last year during what Mark Baumgartner, a CTU executive board member, described as a "no-fault year of implementation" that would give teachers the opportunity to fill in gaps and unpack the standards in a climate free of high-stakes consequences. The standards are being introduced in grades 3-5 this year, with grades 6-12 to follow in 2013-14.

Teacher-shaped professional development has influenced the Common Core introduction in Cleveland schools. Feedback from teachers has led to assistance in areas such as designing new formative assessments aligned to the new standards, and new scope and sequence guides to help educators with pacing throughout the year. The union and district are jointly training in-school specialists known as Common Core advocates. Every school will have these specialists, one responsible for grades K-2, one for 3-5 and one for 6-12. One of their major responsibilities will be to help teachers create excellent classroom lessons that reflect the Common Core standards. With assistance from the AFT Innovation Fund, these lessons will be vetted and then posted online on the school website and on the AFT's Share My Lesson online resource project.

The Learning First Alliance encompasses the AFT and 15 other member organizations that advocate for public school excellence. AFT leaders from Boston, Pittsburgh and Volusia, Fla., also took part in the 2013 leadership council meeting. [Mike Rose]

May 17, 2013