Common Core Raises PD Opportunities, Questions
With all but five states having adopted the Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, education leaders are expecting to see a surge of online professional development resources to help guide teachers through the transition.
"We've always had the ability to share resources, but now those resources are aligned with the same student expectations," notes Greta Bornemann, the project director for the implementation of the common standards for the office of public instruction in Washington state. "Especially during the fiscal crisis that we're in, we can really tap into the power of working together [as a nation] around professional development."
Many districts have yet to take the essential steps toward integration of the Common Core State Standards Initiative into classroom instruction, including providing face-to-face or online professional development for teachers, according to a survey released this fall by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.
In fact, more than half of the 315 districts surveyed indicated they had not provided professional development for teachers of mathematics or English/language arts—the two common-core subject areas—and were not planning to provide such PD for those teachers during the 2011-12 school year.
But professional development will be critical to the overall success of the common standards, says Timothy Kanold, the past president of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, a Denver-based leadership network that provides professional development for math teachers.
"To help the stakeholders—teachers, counselors, administrators, paraprofessionals—in order for them to be confident in the common core and teaching deeper into the standards, they need meaningful and supportive professional development," he says.
For many teachers, shifting to the common standards will require major changes.
There are as few as 28 standards for math for some grade levels, "which is fewer standards than ever before, but you now have to teach them and drill much deeper into them," Kanold says. "Students are expected to conjecture and reason and problem-solve. That's a new day in math. That's a shift for everyone; therefore, we have real professional development that needs to get done."
And PD should not be confined to a one-time conference or class, says Kanold, but rather become an ongoing process for teachers. Online professional development, in particular, may help teachers embed training opportunities into their daily schedules more naturally because it is so easily accessed, he says.
"It's instantaneous," says Kanold. "I don't have to wait for the conference."
Questions of Quality
Tanya Baker, the director of national programs for the National Writing Project, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit organization with multiple sites throughout the country that provides resources and professional development to writing teachers, says the writing portion of the standards also represents a shift to a richer and more rigorous understanding of writing.
"Teachers with a significant amount of experience might not have very much experience with the kind of teaching that would lead kids to be successful with these standards," she says.
But while acknowledging that the common standards provide an opportunity to share PD resources between states, Baker cautions that teachers may still have varying needs.
"My worry about online professional development around common-core standards is that it'll be one-size-fits-all," she says. "Even as we're thinking nationally, we need to be aware locally" of teachers' specific backgrounds and instructional methods.
Identifying high-quality resources may be another challenge, adds Bornemann of Washington state's office of public instruction.
"One of the challenges is that everybody, at least in their claims, appears to be aligned to the common core with professional development and instructional supports," she says. Looking at those resources with a critical eye and making sure they are high-quality before distributing them to teachers is essential.
The James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, an affiliate center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in Durham, N.C., is one of the early providers of online resources on the common core. The organization has created a series of videos, posted on YouTube, that describe various aspects of the common core, such as how the standards were developed, what the key changes are in the subject areas involved, and the reasoning behind those changes.
"This is intended to spark a conversation," says Lucille E. Davy, a senior adviser for the institute. The videos are designed not only for teachers, but also for school board members, policymakers, administrators, and even the PTA.
"Everyone needs to understand this—not just the teacher in the classroom," Davy says.
As schools and educators get a better grasp on what the standards mean for students and teachers, more online and print resources will become available, says Davy. "Right now, I think you're seeing the development of a lot of [curricular] materials," she says, "and then the professional development to actually use those materials and teach the standards is the next frontier."
And while providing much professional development for teachers on the scale that's needed may seem overwhelming, Davy is hopeful that the common core will provide the economies of scale, especially with online professional development, needed to overcome some of the most persistent problems in K-12 education.
"The need to close the achievement gap was already here," she says. "Implementing common core together gives us our best shot for achieving. We can work together, share best practices, and share the burden of doing the work so [states] are not doing it all alone."
Number of varied state adoption plans that expect to fully implement the common core standards in various years.
Vol. 05, Issue 02, Pages 4-5
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