Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core: Impact on the Classroom

Jose Vilson speaks at the 67th National Seminar

At EWA’s 67th National Seminar, we brought together 18 speakers — each with a unique viewpoint — to discuss the rollout of the new Common Core State Standards. This post is Part 2. Click here for Part 1. Part 3 will follow.

Georgia Teacher of the Year Jemelleh Coes said her eighth-grade student Tyler, diagnosed with behavioral issues, went from refusing to participate in class to opening up, analyzing, self-reflecting and basing his arguments on fact.

The Common Core State Standards gave him those tools, Coes said.

She was just one of the speakers on a May 19 panel at the Education Writers Association National Seminar in Nashville, Tenn. But not everyone had such nice things to say about the standards. While Coes saw success with her student, the overall impact of the Common Core on classrooms across the country has been decidedly mixed, speakers suggested.

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said “botched implementation is setting off a chain reaction,” and the standards by themselves won’t do anything for students. Many variables need fixing before the standards can be implemented effectively, he said. Schools are crumbling, classrooms have inadequate resources, and teachers are being evaluated based on formulas that don’t work, Van Roekel argued. Teacher preparation programs and professional development also need strengthening, he said.

Indeed, said Amber Northern, vice president for research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Professional development looks like a broken-down, rusted-out car, she said. The United States needs a shiny new model with all the bells and whistles to teach the Common Core in a meaningful way.

Northern stressed that while it was early in implementation process, the first steps are vital. “We’re in spring training mode,” she said.

But early implementation has produced a mishmash of results, Northern suggested. A Fordham report released in February looked at several districts that adopted the standards early on and found that implementation looked like a “patchwork quilt,” said Northern, co-author of the report.

Who can blame districts, Northern asked. They’re waiting to adopt materials until the Common Core fully rolls out and they know what they’re getting, she said. “We’re in the dark,” Northern said. “In many cases we don’t have the test yet, we don’t have highly vetted curriculum yet. Some districts are doing the best that they can, and some aren’t doing anything at all.”

In many cases, districts are using homegrown materials that claim to be Common Core-aligned but aren’t even close, she said.

William Schmidt of Michigan State University has done the research to back that up. “What’s guiding teachers are a set of textbooks that are badly aligned to the Common Core, which can only lead to disaster,” he said.

In one particular textbook series that he studied, about 30 percent of Common Core standards appropriate to grade level weren’t covered at all. And recent graduates of teacher prep programs aren’t getting an adequate background development to teach Common Core math, he said. Of middle school teachers Schmidt has surveyed, half said they felt prepared to teach linear equations, a dominant theme in algebra.

What’s most stressful for teachers is they feel like they’re living in two separate worlds of implementation, teaching new standards while testing to old standards or vice versa, said Sandra Alberti of Student Achievement Partners, which consults with states and districts on professional development. 

When implementation is a hodgepodge of progress and setbacks, how do educators move forward?

Alberti said teachers need more support, and more teachers need to take ownership of the standards. It’s already happening in some classrooms across the country, where teachers come together to share their lesson plans and best practices.

Teachers need this built-in time for collaboration, Van Roekel said. They need support that’s tailored to their grade and their classroom.

And the student voice needs to be louder, said Jose Vilson, New York City middle school math teacher.

“We need to have students at the table,” he said. “Ask students what they think about their learning. How is it going?”

The work won’t be easy and it will take time, but there’s power in purpose, Coes said. The standards will engage students more in their learning.

“Will it take more time to teach, plan and assess these new standards?” she said. “Will it improve outcomes for students?”

Just look at Tyler for the answer.


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