Guest Post – Gates Foundation’s Vicki Phillips On Common Core Momentum II

Vicki Phillips is Director of Education, College Ready at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (a foundation that funds Bellwether).  In a guest post last month she discussed Common Core implementation and sparked a lively debate. She’s back today to discuss the issue further:

Stick-to-itiveness. Determination. Tenacity. Grit. These are concepts that every teacher tries to impart to his or her students – the importance of not giving up when the going gets tough. In fact, according to Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist and a 2013 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, grit – that potent combination of passion, perseverance and stamina – is the true key to achieving success.

But if that’s the case, I wonder why we are now hearing calls to pause, halt and even reverse the Common Core State Standards – one of the most important U.S. education initiatives in decades. During this time of implementation, being able and willing to adjust and recalibrate is certainly a necessary part of the process, but going backwards is not the answer. As I recently wrote, realizing success for all students is within our reach, and instead of quitting, we must focus on giving teachers and students the support they need as they adjust to the new standards. Equally, we must ensure that teachers and students are truly prepared before consequences for not meeting the standards are implemented.

So, how do we do this?

First, teachers must play a key role in the Common Core implementation process. We’ve seen fantastic results in districts where teachers are already involved in implementation, and the momentum is only growing. For example, in Cleveland, several teachers worked together to create high-quality curriculum units aligned to the Common Core standards. These lessons are now available to all teachers in the district via School Net, Cleveland’s district-wide resource database, and are being taught in classrooms every day.

At the same time, teachers are already working together and with other education practitioners around the country to co-create English Language Arts and math lessons and tools. In states around the country, including Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and others, the state departments of education have partnered with school leaders and teachers in several districts to ensure teachers have access to the high-quality resources and tools they need as the Common Core State Standards are implemented.

Similarly, the NEA’s Master Teacher initiative has brought together 95 teachers to develop a full year’s worth of Common Core-aligned lessons. Once final, these lessons will be available online to all teachers, and the Master Teachers will also develop an associated toolkit, including instructional strategies and classroom management practices, to help teachers use the lessons as effectively as possible. These kinds of collaboration are made possible by having consistent standards across the states.

Second, we need to make sure teachers have the time they need to collaborate and prepare for these changes. The fact is, most teachers just don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. But districts have the ability to give teachers the time they need to get a feel for the new standards and to ensure professional development opportunities for teachers are aligned to the demands of the Common Core. For instance, in both Bridgeport, CT and Fresno, CA, the districts changed teachers’ schedules to give them more on-the-job learning time – which amounted to dozens of extra hours throughout the year that teachers are able to devote to their own professional development without losing valuable instructional time for students. These sorts of fixes may sound simple, but they are meaningful and help ensure that the Common Core is being taught by teachers who are intimately familiar with the material.

The examples I’ve mentioned above are incredible programs that are already succeeding in preparing teachers to teach the Common Core. But now we must ensure that every teacher in the 45 states implementing the Common Core has access to similar resources and opportunities. For the Common Core to achieve its mission to ensure all students graduate from high school prepared to succeed, it is absolutely vital for all teachers to not only have access to the resources, training, tools and time they need, but also to be partners and co-leaders of the implementation process.

I hear all the time from teachers and parents about the value of Common Core. A mother recently reminded me of why we must maintain the momentum in education right now. She shared through an online comment that her son was struggling in school following a move between states, because he was suddenly being held to different standards. “We can do better to give all students a fair shot,” she wrote. “The CCSS facilitates this. Let us not forget our reason for taking on this challenge: students. Let us take a real step in leveling the playing field.”

Great teachers are also speaking out about how their students are already benefiting from Common Core. One teacher in Kentucky recently wrote in a blog that the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, which are aligned to Common Core, “have transformed my instruction and given my students the opportunities they deserve to be prepared for high school when they leave my classroom.” He continued, “I feel far more confident that I am teaching my students to think for themselves, graduate high school, and be college or career ready when they do so.”

This is what we need to remember every time we hear calls to roll back Common Core. We cannot give up. We owe it to our children to continue to move forward and ensure that every child in this country has a chance to pursue his or her dreams. After all, if we expect our children to show grit in the face of adversity, how can we possibly ask any less of ourselves?

11 Replies to “Guest Post – Gates Foundation’s Vicki Phillips On Common Core Momentum II”

  1. The CCSS may, or may not impact student achievement over the next decade, we simply don’t know … we’re pushing in all the chips hoping for the best … and, yes, some teachers and school districts are enthusiastic adopters, you fail to address the states, i.e., parents, suburban parents in high achieving schools that are pushing back vigorously, most teachers across the country feel unprepared, and, test score based teacher evaluation plans angers teachers and creates fear.

    Asking for a moratorium on high stakes testing for a year or two while we phase in the Core makes perfect sense … driving ahead, ignoring the feedback from the field is creating more and more opposition … the elements of the Core are not written in stone (or are they?) …

    Initiatives that fail to gain the endorsement of parents and teachers are doomed to fail (Tyack and Cuban, Tinkering Toward Utopia)

  2. The question of Ed in the Apple is precisely on point: “the elements of the Core are not written in stone (or are they?)”. If they are, this Core will prove indigestible, or at least will make its consumers sick. Those who continue to promote it in spite of the evidence of its insufficiencies (particularly in mathematics) will have to recognize that they have no one but themselves to blame when they see a mass exodus towards private schools (like those its promoters’ children attend), increasing calls for vouchers, tax cuts to lessen support of now useless state schools, and deepening divisions within our country as a result. Parents who want a world-class education for their children will really have no alternative to that course of action available to them; otherwise, if they are ever in the position, in an increasingly mobile world, of the family in the third paragraph from the last in Ms. Phillips’s post above, of moving their children for a time to another country and not having the money for private schools, they will suffer the very same consequences that family did from having had their children held to lower standards — and, insofar as international competition for jobs and university places will increase as the 21st century unfolds, that will be the fate for millions of children across the United States of America.

  3. I find fault with what the reality is right from the headline. “Momentum” you say? It’s seems more like – given how many states dropped out of the PARCC consortium – given how many states are hitting the pause button – decelleration.

    The Pentagon would not use a weapon that wasn’t tested. Nor would any doctor use a medicine that wasn’t tested.

    Common Core standards have not been piloted in any true, research-based manner.

    Common Core standards have no way to give feedback from those on the frontlines – namely, teachers. And, as well, the parents of the students taking the tests based on them.

    We owe it to our children to not have another NCLB. And where did that amazing educational advancement get us?

    We owe it to our children to NOT spend vast amounts of money – on technology and new curriculum – for standards that are not tested. For standards that were NOT primarily created by educators.

    No, the swelling of the pushback is happening state by state precisely because parents are waking up and saying, “My child is not your guinea pig, Mr. Gates. And if it’s good enough for my child, why not your children?”

    Stand back because that tsunami of protest and pressure on state governments and state education departments is coming.

  4. First, I think it’s important that we separate the essence of the Common Core – a set of academic standards – from the implementation and hangover of NCLB legislation. We’ve *always* had some sort of state standards on the books, and no, they’ve *never* been field tested or subjected to rigorous research. The history of curriculum in the US has uniformly been “try it and see what happens.”

    Teachers I’ve talked to (albeit, a small sample size) love the flexibility and depth – rather than teach a laundry list of concepts, they get to focus on deeper ideas and more complex reasoning. AND, they resist having their teaching judged by high stakes standardized tests in the near future, for good reason.

    If we could just separate the idea of standards – something we’ve been doing forever – from the failures of NCLB and its spawn (all stick, no carrot – punishing schools and teachers for “underperforming”), CCSS would be a much easier sell.

  5. Fair enough, Larry. But you see, no one made the effort to explain to parents or taxpayers anything about Common Core. It’s as if it were a new vitamin so of course we’ll all buy in and take it.

    But it’s not. It was disrespectful to believe that parents would be sheep and just go along. Or teachers. Or principals. Or administrators.

    And yet, that’s exactly what the Common Core folks thought. It’s this “we’re the smartest people in the room so trust us” mentality in ed reform that has go to go. But it won’t because that is truly what they believe.

    As you sow, so you reap. That no one thought they needed to truly explain or even “sell” Common Core to the millions it would effect is frightening and troubling.

  6. Melissa, let me start by saying I by no means have “bought into” Common Core, and don’t really have a dog in this fight (in spite of working at a research institute that partners with both Pearson and Gates – take that for what you will).

    My main curiosity has as much to do with why everyone is jumping up and down on “process” (teachers weren’t consulted! parents weren’t consulted!). As far as I can see, parents/teachers are NEVER “consulted” other than after-the-fact complaints to local school boards. When PSSC rolled out in the 1960’s, were parents consulted? Does Harcourt Brace “consult” anyone when they publish a new series of elementary math textbooks?

    Show me anywhere or anywhen that parents and teachers collaborated in designing standards, never mind actual curriculum materials.

    That’s why I’m wondering whether this shrieking about “process” rather than concrete complaints about the actual content of the standards is a bit of a red herring. When NCTM standards came out, people pointed to specific examples and debated the merits of the actual standards – I’d love to see that debate with Common Core. But to argue that “the smartest people in the room” designed the thing… well, that’s been par for the course as long as we’ve had large-scale educational publishing.

  7. You may be right on that particular point but we are in a unique situation.

    When was the last time the feds created national standards?

    And why are the people who DID end up creating them making such a big deal that yes, teachers and parents were consulted? That why it’s suspicious because THEY made the big deal out of it first.

    And I note that language you use “jumping up and down”, “shrieking” – what’s up with that?

    That’s up for debate if most textbooks/standards were created by the “smartest people in the room.”

    Lastly, “no dog in the fight” meaning no children and yet you partner with Pearson and Gates? C’mon, Gates seems to rule the public education world (I’m in Seattle, I know how he works) and throws his money around to prove it. Not going to work in this case because, once again, money and power cannot trump good sense and parents.

    (I note that parents did not help create the standards but were asked about what matters to them. Not a bad question considering it’s their children’s education.)

  8. For a more balanced perspective (beyond a company that benefits financially from the implementation of CC), I recommend reading:

    “So when I look at the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS) and how they came to be, I can only see them within this historical context. The original CCSS workgroups on the Mathematics and English-Language Arts standards consisted of 24 people who worked through a secret process to develop the standards, and who were the final and only decision-makers for the standards. On the surface this looks to me like a Committee of Twenty-Four similar to those formed over the last 100-plus years, especially when we consider who was included and who was excluded from the final decision making body of the CCSS. Outside of two professors, the CCSS Committee of Twenty Four consisted almost entirely of employees and consultants connected to educational corporations Achieve, Inc., ACT Inc., The College Board, Student Achievement Partners, and America’s Choice (a Pearson affiliate).

    Noticeably absent from the CCSS Committee of Twenty Four are practicing, in-the-classroom, professionally educated teachers. Also absent from the committee are individuals formally representing organizations of parents, students, and communities (you know, the actual stakeholders). Even if we generously consider the larger list of 142 people either developing or giving feedback on the CCSS, there were only a handful of practicing teachers and a retired teacher, with the rest consisting mainly of district level administrators, more corporate consultants and employees, and more university professors. Regardless of how we look at it, no practicing teachers held decision-making power, and there still was no formal and purposeful engagement with parents and communities.”

  9. I had a similar situation upon relocating to a new state with my children. My eldest was entering middle school and start out great with straight A’s. Her grades began to drop and I questioned why. Her response was that she was board and had “learned all this stuff in 3rd grade. This peaked my interest of the difference in education state to state. The Common Core Standard was being taught in the state we moved from. Common Core Standards are now being implemented in our current state but she is now in High School. What has she been missing in her education these past 3 years? What will be lacking in education if I don’t intervene for all of my children?

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