Common Core

Hope and anxiety: What do teachers think about the Common Core standards?

The more teachers get to know the controversial Common Core State Standards, the more they like them, according to a teacher survey published this week. And even as many states debate whether to stick with the standards, which lay out what students need to know in math and English based on requirements in other countries, the survey suggests that the Common Core is already being taught at most schools in the 45 states that adopted it.

Assistant Principal Tracee Murren leads ninth-grade Algebra 1 students at the Kingsborough Early College Secondary School in Brooklyn in a discussion about how to make a graph. (Photo: Sarah Garland)

The survey is one of two reports published this week that goes beyond the fights over whether to throw out or slow down Common Core to find out how local school districts and classroom teachers are dealing with the standards in their classrooms. The findings—both reports are published by staunch supporters of the Common Core—were largely positive.

But the feedback from teachers and districts also uncovers anxiety about how classrooms and students will be affected by the tougher standards. Teachers are still worried about how to help struggling students keep up, while districts that adopted the standards early have resorted to coming up with their own curricula to meet the standards because they’ve found few off-the-shelf materials that do a good job of matching Common Core.

And training teachers to be able to handle the Common Core remains a major concern. As one teacher in Washington told researchers: “I feel that my ability to be the best teacher possible for my students is most critically affected by the lack of professional time to adjust the curriculum to the Common Core.”

CLICK TO READ THE SERIES

The first report, published Tuesday by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates is among Hechinger’s many funders), surveyed 20,000 American teachers last July about a range of topics, including the Common Core. The second report, published Wednesday by the right-leaning Fordham Institute, examines how four local school districts that launched Common Core early have fared and highlights best practices.

Here are some of the main takeaways about how teachers are reacting to Common Core from the Scholastic and Gates survey:

  • Half of teachers in Common Core states say they are already teaching the standards in their schools. Only 6 percent say they haven’t begun.
  • While the majority of teachers, 57 percent, say Common Core will be positive for most students, a third don’t think it will make a difference. Eight percent say it will be negative. Elementary school teachers have a sunnier outlook on the standards than middle and high school teachers. Among high school teachers, just 41 percent think the new standards will have a positive effect.
  • The survey asked teachers about whether the standards will meet the goals set for them, including better preparing students for careers and to compete in a global economy. The views were mixed: An overwhelming majority of teachers say the standards will help with consistency and clarity about what students are expected to learn across states. But just half agreed that they’ll help students prepare for careers and to compete globally.
  • For teachers that have already started working on the standards, 62 percent say it’s going well while 20 percent say it’s not going well. At the same time, 75 percent of teachers say they feel prepared for the standards.
  • Forty percent of teachers say they worried about how students who are below grade level will keep up with the new standards, though, and more than a quarter worry about their special education students.

ccgraphicWhat to do about the lingering worries? The Fordham report highlighted best practices being used by the early adopters of the Common Core that might be helpful for others who are further behind. (The districts were Nashville, Tenn., District 54 in Shaumburg, Ill., in the Chicago suburbs, Kenton County School District in Northern Kentucky, and Washoe County School District in Nevada, which encompasses the Reno-Tahoe area.) Here are outtakes:

  • Two of the districts profiled by Fordham have pushed principals to spend more time in the classroom. In the two that hadn’t encouraged principals to focus more on teaching and less on administration, the report found that “teachers and principals alike report that insufficient principal training on the new standards is the biggest implementation challenge.”
  • Educators have been disappointed about the curriculum materials produced to match Common Core. The early-bird districts were adapting what they had in place previously or starting from scratch to create new curricula and lesson plans. According to the report, “All four expressed caution about spending limited dollars on materials that were not truly aligned to the Common Core and are delaying at least some of their purchases until they see products that demonstrate better alignment.”
  • And to address the big worry of how to train teachers? In the four districts profiled in the Fordham report, in-class coaching and joint planning time for teachers worked better than workshops. “Teachers in these districts use their time to focus relentlessly on instruction and the Common Core—not on administrative obligations,” the report said.

The four districts didn’t have all the answers for making the transition to Common Core a smooth one, though. As one Nashville educator put it, “All our teachers feel like they’re first-year teachers right now.”

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Sarah Garland

Sarah Garland is the executive editor of The Hechinger Report. She started out in journalism reporting on murders and mayhem in New York City for… See Archive