Education Week reports that even as the Common Core State Standards are being put into practice across most of the country, nearly half of teachers feel unprepared to teach them, especially to disadvantaged students, according to a new survey.
The study by the EPE Research Center, an arm of Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week, found deep wells of concern among teachers about their readiness to meet the challenges posed by the common core in English/language arts and mathematics.
“Teachers are under tremendous pressure,” said Lisa Dickinson, an assistant director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, which conducts several common-core training programs in school districts each month. ”The new standards do require a major shift in instruction. And the needed supports really aren’t there.”
Teachers in adopting states were asked to rate their preparedness on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “very prepared” and 1 “not at all prepared.” When asked how prepared they were to teach the common core to their own students as a whole, 49 percent rated themselves a 1, 2, or 3. More than two-thirds said they were not well enough prepared to teach the standards to English-language learners or students with disabilities. More than half said they were not yet ready to teach them to low-income students or those considered at risk of academic failure.
Another survey, released last week, however, found teachers feeling confident about their readiness to teach the new standards.
The EPE study, based on an online survey conducted in October, is not nationally representative of U.S. teachers. It is drawn from 600 K-12 educators who are registered users of edweek.org. But the sample is quite diverse, drawing on K-12 teachers, school-based curriculum coordinators, instructional coaches, content specialists, and department leaders in cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas, and in schools of all sizes, serving students of varying income levels.
Students with special challenges, such as learning disabilities or limited English proficiency, appear to be particularly at risk of not being well served, since educators said they were the least prepared to teach those students. Even teachers who have had more rather than less professional development in the common standards reported that they were the least ready for those subgroups of students.
Many in education contend that the common standards demand significant changes in pedagogy, and, in some cases, teachers’ content knowledge. In math, for instance, students are being asked to demonstrate their understanding not only of procedures, but also of their conceptual underpinnings. In English/language arts, they’re expected to marshal evidence from what they read to support arguments and build their muscle with informational texts.
The most frequently addressed subject of professional development was English/language arts, followed by math and a comparison of the common standards with states’ previous standards. Curriculum resources and collaboration with colleagues to teach the standards were also popular topics of professional development.
The least-frequent topic of professional development was how to teach the standards to subgroups of students. Only 18 percent of those who have had some training said it explored that area.
That’s a worrisome sign for some of the neediest students, said Sherida Britt, who oversees some of the professional-development activities conducted by the Alexandria, Va.-based group ASCD. ”We have to look at what teachers are saying and give them opportunities to engage in professional learning that addresses these issues and the needs of those particular students,” she said.
Although research has shown that job-embedded professional development is the most effective kind, only three in 10 educators who had received some training for the common core said that was the way it had been given. ”Due to resources, professional development is still the drive-by” variety in most districts, said the AFT’s Ms. Dickinson. More typically, professional development was provided through seminars, lectures or conferences, or collaborative planning time with colleagues.
What teachers really need, Ms. Dickinson said, is time to collaborate during the school day, when they can “really unpack the standards and look at lessons and understand what it looks like for student learning. “Teachers need time to collaborate [not only] within their grade, but across grades,” she said, “so they can understand the progression of the standards, what’s come before, and where they’re going. This is very complex work, and the time is just not built in for them.”
In addition to being asked about their own sense of preparedness for the common standards, educators answering the EPE Research Center survey were also asked to size up the readiness of their schools, districts, and states for the new standards. On the whole, they had more confidence in their own readiness than in that of the systems in which they function.
Turning their eyes to their own students, teachers showed grave concerns about the children’s prospects for mastering the standards. Asked to rate how well prepared their students are for that task on the 1-to-5 scale, with 5 being very prepared, only 23 percent of the educators gave the students 4′s or 5′s. Thirty-seven percent gave them 1′s and 2′s, and one-third gave them 3′s.
Teachers gave a mix of responses when asked about the standards’ quality and their potential to improve their practice. About 37 percent said the common standards are about as good as their own states’ previous standards, and 41 percent said the common standards were better. But even with that mixture of views, two-thirds said they thought the new standards would improve their teaching.
The EPE Research Center’s survey of educators’ views on the common core was funded by the Hewlett Foundation.
Source: Education Week, 2/27/2013. by Catherine Gewertz
[Editor's Note: In November 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Los Angeles Times, which reported that efforts by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to secure a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has failed, because the L.A. teachers’ union has declined to sign the application, a condition for the competition imposed by ED.]