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​Three Practices Quietly Undermining Your Chances at Common Core Success

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When California announced the results of its new Common Core exams on Sept. 9, the news was dismal but not unexpected.

According to the results, fewer than half of California’s students achieved grade-level targets in English on the state’s new Common Core exams—and only one-third of students did so in math. Across the nation, other states are seeing the same trend.

These outcomes should not be surprising, given that teachers nationwide say they need better guidance on how to effectively implement the Common Core standards in their classrooms.

For instance, according to a report from the Sacramento-based research and policy analysis group EdInsights, most California teachers and administrators believe the Common Core State Standards will help create more college- and career-ready high school graduates. But the state’s educators need more clarity on how to implement the standards, the report reveals.

A separate survey of teachers and administrators, conducted by School Improvement Network, paints a clearer picture of their top areas of concern around the Common Core. The biggest challenges standing in their way include a lack of time and materials needed to implement the standards, as well as teacher attitudes and resistance to change.

What are the root causes of these problems, and how can K-12 districts overcome them? A deeper dive into these issues offers answers.

1. Not providing specific, consistent feedback for teachers

According to the EdInsights report, California teachers are optimistic about the potential for the new standards to enhance their students’ critical thinking skills. They raised concerns, however, about choosing the best instructional techniques and knowing when they were “doing it right.”

Even with an increased emphasis on instructional leadership, many leaders still haven’t developed feedback loops strong and consistent enough to facilitate significant, lasting improvement in classroom practice. In many districts surveyed, teacher feedback amounted to a single, brief discussion following classroom observations.

One teacher with 13 years of experience described her challenges this way: “I am expected to improve with extremely little feedback. My teaching is unlikely to improve without consistent feedback, and student learning is unlikely to improve without improvements made in my teaching.”

2. Focusing on individual learning at the expense of collaboration

Although teachers “have received substantial professional learning opportunities” to help them implement the Common Core, the EdInsights report identified a number of areas where these opportunities have fallen short.

In particular, teachers need more time to plan and collaborate with their peers. This is different from time dedicated to more traditional professional development activities—conferences, summer trainings, etc.—that continue to dominate district time and budgets.

“I don’t need another lecture on the theory [of Common Core]—I’ve had that,” says one teacher quoted in the report. “I need time to sit down and develop resources with other teachers.”

3. Providing “one-size-fits-all” learning opportunities

The EdInsights report also observes that California teachers require more targeted professional development that addresses their individual needs.

Although “teachers have received significant professional learning opportunities about the [Common Core State Standards], … many teachers identified specific needs—such as help supporting English language learners,” the report said.

This finding was echoed in the School Improvement Network survey. While teachers reported spending several hours on professional development, they noted that it wasn’t always relevant to their professional learning goals.

A better way

These problems aren’t unique to California, and they offer insight into how schools nationwide can improve. Whether education leaders know it or not, these problems are causing major breakdowns in Common Core implementation and student achievement.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that solving these problems isn’t as hard as you might think. There’s a method for improving Common Core implementation that cultivates better communication, collaboration, and personalized professional learning—one that has been applied successfully in every type of district. We call this method the School Improvement Formula, and it consists of the following components:

An effective strategic plan for fulfilling your goals. Most districts already have a strategic plan in place, but often these plans fail to produce sustainable improvements because they lack some of the most critical elements for success—such as a clear vision, sufficiently detailed action steps, and incentives to drive engagement.

An educator effectiveness process, because great plans require great educators. Such a process must be driven by frequent classroom observations followed by discussion, reflection, and ongoing staff development that is highly customized for each teacher. This process delivers the kind of personalized feedback about their practices that teachers in California and elsewhere say they need to be successful.

The right technology to support the plan. This technology must allow users to easily track and analyze teachers’ progress toward their professional learning goals. It should also deliver highly customized, on-demand resources to help teachers develop their classroom practice and meet these goals, making PD directly relevant to their needs.

A commitment to long-term implementation. In the high-turnover culture of education leadership, this can be hard to do. The most successful school improvement plans, however, are based on timelines of at least three to five years. This commitment should involve creating opportunities for teachers to plan collaboratively around the Common Core, unpacking the standards and creating lessons together in grade-level or department teams.

When K-12 leaders follow these four critical steps, almost everything about their schools can improve—leading to sustained success with the Common Core.

Learn how School Improvement Network supports the Common Core in meeting these four steps to successful implementation.

This article was sponsored by School Improvement Network and not written by the EdSurge editorial staff.
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