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Standards, Teachers, and Curriculum

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May 04, 2012 04:01 pm

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Bill Schmidt, a Distinguished Professor of Education at Michigan State University and a lead researcher on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), has examined the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and gave them high marks. He and his colleague Richard Huang found that the standards are consistent with those of high performing nations, and that high standards are in fact associated with high performance in mathematics. That’s good news for the standards.

But Schmidt’s research, which also includes a survey of teachers, also provides some sobering findings. As he said in presenting them at an event in Washington on May 3, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, the good. Teachers know about the standards and like them. Some 90 percent of teachers have heard of the standards, 70 percent have read them, and 90 percent think they are a good idea. “You’re not fighting teachers,” he said.

The bad news is that, while most teachers say they have read the standards, they do not seem to have appreciated their implications. Some 80 percent of teachers say they are “pretty much the same” as their former state standards; Schmidt’s analysis shows that state standards were between 66 percent and 83 percent consistent with the Common Core. Moreover, Schmidt found, a fourth of the teachers surveyed said that, if the Common Core State Standards moved a topic to a different grade level, they would not drop it from their curriculum. “They do not recognize the train that will hit them,” Schmidt said.

The ugly news is that a large proportion of teachers feel that they are unprepared to teach the Common Core State Standards. The problem is most acute in elementary grades, where only 50 percent said they were “well prepared” to teach the standards.

As states work to implement the standards, these findings present a significant challenge. One thing that would help would be high-quality instructional materials, which can help provide guidance to teachers. But a separate report, released recently from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, found that states have very little information on the curriculum materials teachers are currently using, much less on which ones are effective.

One hopeful sign comes from states working together, just as they had done in developing the Common Core State Standards. Three states that won federal Race to the Top grants; Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island, are developing tools to evaluate both the alignment of materials to the Common Core State Standards and their quality. Officials from the states met recently in Boston to pilot the tools for use with English language arts materials, and officials from twenty states will gather soon to learn about the tools and pilot them, according to Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve. That’s a development worth watching.

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