Are Teachers Getting the Right Kind of Common-Core PD?

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 01, 2016 2 min read
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Well ... yes and no, according to a pair of new surveys from the RAND Corporation, a research and analysis firm.

Teachers do seem to be getting a lot of professional development aligned to the common core in both English language arts and math. The problem is that it’s not always focused on the topics that they say they need the most help on. Instead, teachers seem to be saying: “OK, we totally get that there are these new standards. We even kinda know what they want us to do differently. But we still need help digging into the pedagogy on some of the finer points.”

The surveys are drawn from RAND’s American Teacher Panel, which represents some 1,130 teachers. They are based on a random sample of panel members, weighted to account for differential responses and nonresponses.

Let’s take a look at findings in both subjects.

Note that, in both subjects, more than half of teachers reported that “the content of state standards” was a focus of their professional development, but far fewer teachers said that focus reflected their needs (28 percent in math and 31 percent in English/language arts.) Teachers also said they got more PD on using assessment data to inform teaching than they really needed, and more on instructional strategies than they really needed.

In most cases, the gap between what teachers said they needed and what their districts were providing was pretty small. But a couple of themes that emerged from the studies stand out, and both involve PD mismatches for math teachers. They reported inadequate PD on helping students construct viable mathematical arguments and critiquing the work of others, and on making connections among key topics and grade levels. Both of those, it bears mentioning, are major shifts in the common core standards compared to what most states had in place before.

In English/language arts, teachers’ greatest needs seemed to cluster around writing instruction and helping students craft arguments in their writing. In math, problem-solving and applying math in the real world were also big topics of need.

Also worth nothing is that non-ELA teachers reported feeling significantly less prepared to teach those standards. That’s not a surprise, but it indicates that there is still a long way to go to help teachers in other content areas understand that responsibility for literacy—and understanding how the way we read differs in different domains—is shared by all content teachers.

The surveys also showed that teachers in non-common-core states reported being more familiar with their state standards than teachers in common-core states. That could be because non-common-core teachers have presumably had a longer period of time to get used to their states’ expectations—although it starts to get trickier when you consider states like Indiana and Oklahoma that have jettisoned the common-core standards but retained much of their language.

Funding for the survey analysis was provided by the National Education Association and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. (The Gates Foundation supports coverage of college- and career-ready standards in Education Week.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.