February 13, 2014

Guest Post – Gates Foundation’s Vicki Phillips On Common Core Momentum II

By Bellwether

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Vicki Phillips is Director of Education, College Ready at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (a foundation that funds Bellwether).  In a guest post last month she discussed Common Core implementation and sparked a lively debate. She’s back today to discuss the issue further:

Stick-to-itiveness. Determination. Tenacity. Grit. These are concepts that every teacher tries to impart to his or her students – the importance of not giving up when the going gets tough. In fact, according to Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist and a 2013 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, grit – that potent combination of passion, perseverance and stamina – is the true key to achieving success.

But if that’s the case, I wonder why we are now hearing calls to pause, halt and even reverse the Common Core State Standards – one of the most important U.S. education initiatives in decades. During this time of implementation, being able and willing to adjust and recalibrate is certainly a necessary part of the process, but going backwards is not the answer. As I recently wrote, realizing success for all students is within our reach, and instead of quitting, we must focus on giving teachers and students the support they need as they adjust to the new standards. Equally, we must ensure that teachers and students are truly prepared before consequences for not meeting the standards are implemented.

So, how do we do this?

First, teachers must play a key role in the Common Core implementation process. We’ve seen fantastic results in districts where teachers are already involved in implementation, and the momentum is only growing. For example, in Cleveland, several teachers worked together to create high-quality curriculum units aligned to the Common Core standards. These lessons are now available to all teachers in the district via School Net, Cleveland’s district-wide resource database, and are being taught in classrooms every day.

At the same time, teachers are already working together and with other education practitioners around the country to co-create English Language Arts and math lessons and tools. In states around the country, including Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and others, the state departments of education have partnered with school leaders and teachers in several districts to ensure teachers have access to the high-quality resources and tools they need as the Common Core State Standards are implemented.

Similarly, the NEA’s Master Teacher initiative has brought together 95 teachers to develop a full year’s worth of Common Core-aligned lessons. Once final, these lessons will be available online to all teachers, and the Master Teachers will also develop an associated toolkit, including instructional strategies and classroom management practices, to help teachers use the lessons as effectively as possible. These kinds of collaboration are made possible by having consistent standards across the states.

Second, we need to make sure teachers have the time they need to collaborate and prepare for these changes. The fact is, most teachers just don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. But districts have the ability to give teachers the time they need to get a feel for the new standards and to ensure professional development opportunities for teachers are aligned to the demands of the Common Core. For instance, in both Bridgeport, CT and Fresno, CA, the districts changed teachers’ schedules to give them more on-the-job learning time – which amounted to dozens of extra hours throughout the year that teachers are able to devote to their own professional development without losing valuable instructional time for students. These sorts of fixes may sound simple, but they are meaningful and help ensure that the Common Core is being taught by teachers who are intimately familiar with the material.

The examples I’ve mentioned above are incredible programs that are already succeeding in preparing teachers to teach the Common Core. But now we must ensure that every teacher in the 45 states implementing the Common Core has access to similar resources and opportunities. For the Common Core to achieve its mission to ensure all students graduate from high school prepared to succeed, it is absolutely vital for all teachers to not only have access to the resources, training, tools and time they need, but also to be partners and co-leaders of the implementation process.

I hear all the time from teachers and parents about the value of Common Core. A mother recently reminded me of why we must maintain the momentum in education right now. She shared through an online comment that her son was struggling in school following a move between states, because he was suddenly being held to different standards. “We can do better to give all students a fair shot,” she wrote. “The CCSS facilitates this. Let us not forget our reason for taking on this challenge: students. Let us take a real step in leveling the playing field.”

Great teachers are also speaking out about how their students are already benefiting from Common Core. One teacher in Kentucky recently wrote in a blog that the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, which are aligned to Common Core, “have transformed my instruction and given my students the opportunities they deserve to be prepared for high school when they leave my classroom.” He continued, “I feel far more confident that I am teaching my students to think for themselves, graduate high school, and be college or career ready when they do so.”

This is what we need to remember every time we hear calls to roll back Common Core. We cannot give up. We owe it to our children to continue to move forward and ensure that every child in this country has a chance to pursue his or her dreams. After all, if we expect our children to show grit in the face of adversity, how can we possibly ask any less of ourselves?

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