07/12/2011

Panelists Discuss Steps Needed to Make Standards Work

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A July 12 afternoon general session at TEACH offered a wealth of perspectives on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and insights on the additional steps and supports necessary to implement them successfully in the nation's schools.

Common Core Standards panel 

David Coleman, an English standards writer for CCSS, explained three general principles that define the initiative. First, the effort begins with the "moral imperative" that all students should be college and career ready when they leave high school. Second, standards should not become an exercise in adding-on but a conscious effort to define what matters most in English language arts and mathematics. Third, there was recognition that new standards must strike the proper balance when it comes to instructional time available and the need to focus deeply on content.

There was "a deep covenant between us and teachers" when it comes to keeping new standards teachable, Coleman said.

That final characteristic, Coleman stressed, owes much to the early, substantial and continuing involvement of classroom teachers and the AFT in CCSS development and implementation—including Florida high school precalculus teacher and panelist Peggy Brookins, a board member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and one of 30 AFT members who reviewed draft standards in both English language arts and mathematics.

Brookins said one of the first points that she and other frontline teacher-reviewers stressed with CCSS writers was critical: "You don't have to worry about pedagogy—we do." AFT teachers, she added, successfully imprinted that concern in a variety of ways on the new standards—from working for language that can involve all building-level educators in helping students achieve mastery to ensuring that the final documents are well organized for teachers and readable. Final standards are available online.

Panelist Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, detailed how all levels of the AFT are working aggressively to ensure the success of educators and students now that 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards. In Clements' local, for example, the union is helping to tailor professional development that will allow key groups like social studies teachers to understand and capitalize on the connection between their disciplines and CCSS. The local also is working with the district on outreach, so that parents can understand the new standards and support this important transformation in public schools. Clements stressed that these and other strategies form the foundation of a 2011 AFT resolution that offers 38 recommendations for rolling out new standards successfully.

Clements also lauded the work of CCSS writers, with the support of classroom teachers, to ensure that the new standards "are not another scripted recipe" for daily instruction but a flexible vehicle for deep exploration and mastery of content and "something where teachers can bring their whole repertoire of skills" to their professional duties.

AFT vice president and panel moderator Maria Neira, who served on the ad hoc committee that developed the rollout recommendations, emphasized that the union will continue its efforts to make sure that the Common Core State Standards avoid the implementation pitfalls suffered in previous forays into standards-based reform. A high priority in that work, she stressed, is to see that curriculum is not given short shrift. The ad hoc committee "really looked at the curriculum" as essential to success, she said. "That is the hole we often see" when standards-based reform does not translate into constructive school change, said Neira, who is also a vice president of the New York State United Teachers. [Mike Rose/photo by Michael Campbell]

July 12, 2011