Common Core State Standards: Teacher Training and Pedagogy

William H. Young

Three years after the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), an article in the Journal of Teacher Education (May/June 2013) finally recognized the changes in teacher training and professional development required by the CCSS:

Standards-based curriculum and assessment…place considerable pressure on pre-service and in service teacher educators to enable teachers to effectively incorporate the standards into instruction. The more recent content standards emphasize student depth of knowledge, higher order thinking, and adaptive application that places great demands on the kind of teaching skills that few teachers currently possess…and will require particular attention to the type of professional development needed for both pre-service and in service teachers.[1]

Most schools of education have not provided, are not currently providing, and are unlikely to provide in the near future the kinds of teacher training demanded by the CCSS.

Last week, in Schools of Education, I illustrated how they dismiss the idea of training their students to be teachers, instead indoctrinating them with a set of precepts about race, class, language, and culture. I also summarized their rejection of imparting knowledge in teachers. In an article in Education Next (Summer 2013), Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) argues that neither that attitude nor the capability to provide the needed knowledge and training will be changed rapidly in the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education.[2] Much of the needed training will have to come from outside professional development for some time.

Let’s consider specific evidence supporting the above conclusions. The Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report by the NCTQ found that:

Fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just over one-third of high school programs are preparing candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new…[CCSS]….

The “reading wars” are far from over. Three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers…Instead, the teacher candidate is all too often told to develop his or her “own unique approach” to teaching reading.[3]

In her article in Education Next, Walsh explicates why education schools are failing prospective teachers in this critical area:

Nowhere is the abdication of training truer or more harmful than in the course work elementary teacher candidates take in reading instruction. It is commonly assumed that teacher educators opt not to train candidates in scientifically based reading instruction, instead “training” them in “whole language” methods. Actually, no such training occurs, as whole language methods require no training. Whole language is not an instructional method that a teacher might learn to apply, but merely a theory (flawed at that) based on the premise that learning to read is a “natural” process. It is no coincidence then that the whole language approach tracks nicely with a philosophy of teacher education in which technical training is disparaged.

The…NCTQ…has reviewed hundreds of syllabi from reading programs at more than 800 institutions across the country. What these programs most often teach is not to adopt the whole language approach but that the candidate should develop her own approach to teaching reading, based on exposure to various philosophies and approaches, none more valid than any other….

The CCSS make all the more pressing the need to train teachers to teach differently than they themselves were likely taught. Absolutely essential is the effective training of all candidates in necessary pedagogical tools and techniques before they enter the classroom.[4]

Once again, the education Blob has reared its head and threatens the provision of such training. In a review of Seven Myths about Education in The Huffington Post, E. D. Hirsch Jr. notes that the book indirectly explains the failures of reading instruction by teachers in response to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). He comments that:

Our educators now stand ready to commit the same mistakes with the…[CCSS]. Distressed teachers are saying that they are being compelled to engage in the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies.” In short, educators are preparing to apply the same skills-based notions about reading that have failed for several decades.[5]

This interface with the Blob is another important one in which members of the NAS might apply their expertise and influence to support the provision of professional development needed by both new and existing teachers.

Walsh goes on to define some types of professional development that the CCSS require:

Early reading…We have the specific knowledge that would allow all but a small percentage of children to read. If we applied that knowledge systematically, we could reduce reading failure from some 30 percent to less than 5 percent….

English language arts…Teachers will have to adopt new protocols that consider a host of factors, including the careful selection of appropriately complex texts (with as much attention to nonfiction as to fiction), the delivery of a lesson, appropriate classroom activities, as well as assignments that students are given. Ideally, new teachers should have practiced these protocols before they enter the classroom for the first time….

Mathematics…As part of their own training, elementary teachers will have had to develop a fluid and conceptual understanding of numbers systems in all of their representations, something we estimate is not currently happening in 75 percent of teacher education programs….[6]

In The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum, education professor emerita Sandra Stotsky explains some of the professional development changes for English teachers necessary to support the requirements of the CCSS. She highlights the importance of support for the close reading mandate of the CCSS that I discussed previously in The Gettysburg Address:

In the introduction to Common Core’s English Language Arts standards, a single sentence on close reading indicates a clear shift from educational goalposts of the past. “Students who meet the standards readily understand the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature.” This shift is an important one for literary study in America.

Teacher preparation and professional development programs across the country will need to change to address these new goals. Standards for preparing teachers need to be re-evaluated.

Stotsky summarizes some specific changes needed:

First…reading teachers will need to learn how to shape their elementary and middle school reading programs so that they contribute to the literary history and literary context for the works assigned in high school English classes….

Second, English teachers must insist that their professional development programs address the teaching of texts rich with allusions and historical references that can contribute to a coherent curriculum….

Third, drastic changes need to be made in the pedagogy as well as the literary content of professional development programs for non-AP English teachers if these programs are to help English teachers to construct and teach a literature curriculum that benefits all the other students intellectually….

Fourth, English teachers need to examine carefully the credentials of those who tell them that they should teach only contemporary texts addressing students’ presumed interests…

She concludes that teachers also need professional development in the historical context and philosophical background of this country’s seminal political documents, which the CCSS require that they teach their students how to read:

No one is better equipped to provide this professional development than departments of political science and political philosophy in their state’s own colleges and universities.[7]

The NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review 2013 highlights the needs of first-year teachers:

The real challenge is that first-year teachers now teach around 1.5 million students every year, many of whom, because of district placement practices, are already behind in their learning. The heart of the matter…is that students taught by first-year teachers lose far too much ground.[8]

And Michael McShane of the American Enterprise Institute observes that:

We need to bring the 3.2 million teachers currently working in schools up to speed. In order to do that, schools and districts are going to need to rely on professional development….

Doug Lemov… argues that most professional development is offered by outsiders with little respect for the culture or management of the school…It values new trends in presentation and thinking over real useful pedagogical strategies.[9]

A prime challenge for the successful implementation of the CCSS will be choosing purveyors of professional development and avoiding those complicit in past practices who dispense false claims of alignment with the CCSS—as Hirsch noted above— and turning to those who offer new concepts and content that are truly aligned with the CCSS requirements.

In searching for examples of such professional development, I came across an article in The Tennessean which reads, ironically:

With the recent introduction of new common core standards for student achievement, the demands on teachers and administrators are greater than ever. In March, the Ayers Institute introduced a series of Web-based resources to help teachers implement and better understand the …[CCSS].[10]

My blood ran cold until I realized that Ayers was not William, but Jim (a banker) and his wife Janet, Tennessee philanthropists who support education through the Ayers Foundation. Hopefully such support for implementing the CCSS will be of the right kind to support, not thwart, the CCSS, and may be replicated in other states.

In their battle to implement the CCSS, governors and local school districts should open a second front— to review the existing effectiveness of the training and professional development being provided to help teachers master the execution of the CCSS. The most immediate supplements required in teacher education and pedagogy should be identified, funded, and tracked. NAS members might be especially helpful here.

Although teachers should be evaluated and compensated by local school districts based on their performance rather than tenure, accountability for student learning should be deferred until teachers receive the necessary professional development in the pedagogies required by the CCSS. In the longer run, the needed training and knowledge must be provided to teachers in proper schooling. And the quality of teacher candidates needs to be raised, which the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) has finally begun to address.

The systemic reform of public education led by the CCSS requires—and provides the long-needed opportunity for—revolutionary change in numerous interrelated aspects of education schooling: academic content and curriculum; reading and mathematics pedagogies; instructional materials and techniques; student and school achievement assessments; and training and professional development of teachers. America can make no better investment in solving our national public education tragedy than by aggressively following the lead that the CCSS provide.

The next and final article in this series will address actions that should be taken to complement the implementation of the CCSS.

______________________________________________________________________________

This is one of a series of occasional articles applying the lessons of Western civilization to contemporary issues relevant to the academy.

The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).

 

[1] Stephanie L. Knight et al., “Teacher Learning and Standards-Based Instruction,” Journal of Teacher Education, May/June 2013.

[2] Kate Walsh, “Teacher Education: Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools they need,” Education Next, Summer 2013.

[3] Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report, National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2013.

[4] Walsh, “Teacher Education.”

[5] E. D. Hirsch Jr., “A Game-Changing Education Book from England,” The Huffington Post, 27 June 2013.

[6]  Walsh, “Teacher Education.”

[7] Sandra Stotsky, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2012), 137, 180, 192‒94.

[8] Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report.

[10] Janet Ayers and Candice McQueen, “School reform starts by educating teachers,” The Tennessean, 2 June 2013.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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