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Anne OBrien's picture
Anne O’Brien is Deputy Director for Learning First Alliance. She previously worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana, where she managed first school-based mentoring and then...
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Educator Preparation and the Common Core: A Voice from the Field

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nations teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, I contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

In addition to providing concrete examples of how the educator preparation program at Tulane has evolved to meet the challenges that new, higher standards bring, they made a strong case for establishing a grace period during which results from the next-generation assessments slated to accompany the Common Core be used only as diagnostic tools, as they are being designed to be, and not for high stakes or accountability. Highlights from their comments include:

On the potential of the Common Core: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without assistance from teachers, schools, and students.

On the role of educator preparation programs in Common Core implementation: If we want to change teaching on a fundamental level, we need to model for teacher candidates by instructing them in known, research-supported, successful, best practices of teaching. Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) have to make our own lessons active, open-ended, and rigorous. We also have to keep teachers and teacher candidates apprised of current events in education on a state and national level, and we have to help them make sense of the standards and other requirements they will be expected to meet. This way they enter the field informed and flexible enough to adapt when the next set of standards is presented.

On how their program has evolved to meet the challenges of the Common Core: There are two main actions that we have taken since the acceptance of the Common Core standards. First is to have teacher candidates study the CC standards, as we had them study the standards prior to the CC, and design lessons for those standards upon which we evaluate them.

The second thing we have done is on a program level. We have revised our curriculum to link the focus on thinking that was already ingrained into our program to the thinking addressed in the CC standards. With each revision of the state standards, university EPPs adapt their curriculum and program assessment systems to ensure their teacher candidates are prepared for the classroom and their students.

On the challenges teacher preparation programs face in Common Core implementation: The challenge continues to be the same one that universities have always had having enough time for students to develop a complex understanding of the learning and teaching process as well as providing enough quality experiences (with successful teachers in classrooms) before someone enters the classroom on his/her own. We are limited by state legislatures in the preparatory coursework we can offer, which thus limits how effectively we can prepare teachers. We are limited by the growing belief that learning about the complexity of learning and teaching, as well as how to maneuver within that complexity, is not necessary and thus anyone can teach without developing a strong knowledge-based skill set.

On next-generation assessments: PARCC [the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, the assessment consortia to which Louisiana belongs] is going to affect the number of students completing tests successfully. Any time standards change test scores drop as has been proven in states where the new tests have been implemented. Students have prepared for years to meet other standards. There needs to be a grace period or grandfathering period longer than the few years being currently allowed in Louisiana. The system simply cannot respond effectively in such a short turn-around any system requires time for assimilation of new material. The assessments can be used as diagnostic tools the true purpose of such tools but not for high stakes or accountability.

The question remains on whether the PARCC assessments will be able to do all they promise or that schools will be able to implement them. It is also questionable if the PARCC assessments will actually be able to measure the complex thinking required of the CC standards that would actually make implementing an accountability system valuable.

Read the complete interview on the Learning First Alliance website.

This content originally appeared by Anne O'Brien on Learning First Alliance's blog and is posted here with permission.