New York, Connecticut Teachers to Devise Common-Core Strategies

By Catherine Gewertz — November 10, 2014 3 min read
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State teachers’ unions in Connecticut and New York have won grants to work on strategies for putting the Common Core State Standards into practice.

The grants, announced today, were made by the American Federation of Teachers’ Innovation Fund. The AFT had announced the grant competition in July at its annual convention, which also featured passage of a resolution demanding more teacher input into common-core implementation. The program stemmed from teachers’ concerns that the standards weren’t being well implemented, and that they were created with insufficient input from educators to begin with.

The AFT’s Innovation Fund gave applicants a wide berth when it invited them to apply. Projects could include revising the standards or writing new ones. In the end, the union chose proposals that focused on “finding better ways to make the standards work for teachers and students,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

A six-month, $30,000 grant to the New York State United Teachers will support a task force’s work to “review and critique” the state’s common-core curriculum materials. You might recall that these instructional resources were widely criticized by teachers in the Empire State not only for their content, but for being rolled out piecemeal, and leaving teachers too little time to master the curriculum before tests were given.

The task force will also examine whether teachers were given sufficient professional development to prepare them for the new curriculum, and find out more about how the state’s testing vendor, Pearson, developed its common-core assessments.

“Given the profound problems with the state’s materials used for the initial Common Core rollout—units that weren’t developed with educators—we’re anxious to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a critique aimed at improving the materials and making sure they are developmentally appropriate for students,” NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said in an AFT statement.

The state union has been battling with the state over its handling of the common core for many months. It was so disenchanted with common-core implementation in New York that it called for the resignation of schools chief John King. It fought the state on the role common-core tests would play in teacher evaluations, and ultimately won some concessions there.

In recent months, the NYSUT called for districts to boycott the field-testing of Pearson’s assessments, and sued the state over a rule that prevents teachers from discussing common-testing items.

UPDATED: New York Department of Education spokesman Tom Dunn said that teachers were extensively involved in the development of the state’s voluntary curriculum, and pointed out that AFT teachers have praised curricular materials by one of New York’s vendors, Core Knowledge. The free curriculum materials—by Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning and Common Core Inc.—have drawn 16 million visits on, he said. The department is also actively soliciting teachers’ input in improving its curriculum modules, he noted.

The AFT’s six-month, $26,000 grant to the state union in Connecticut mirrors concerns that some in the early-childhood community have raised about the age-appropriateness of the Common Core State Standards in the earliest grades. That grant will study appropriate instructional strategies for young children learning the standards, and will also recommend effective approaches for teachers working with students with special needs.

“Teachers have not had enough time to fully understand the standards and develop curriculum, and it’s been especially difficult for teachers with special education students and English-language learners,” AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters said in the statement.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.