Go Common Core

A Resource for Teachers Transitioning to the Common Core


Financial Priorities?

Public schools in California have been through the financial wringer over the past several years. Budget cuts have resulted in teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, elimination of summer school, decreased support staff, dwindling supplies, and dated text books. Most districts are struggling to maintain their current quality of instruction with greatly reduced resources. What could make this dismal financial situation even worse? How about adopting an entirely new curriculum!

Already struggling districts must now spend countless dollars to align with The Common Core. Of course, schools will need to purchase all new textbooks and instructional materials. Administrators, curriculum leaders, teachers, and other personnel will need to be trained. The Smarter Balanced assessment will require the purchase of new technology, including enough computers for all students to take the computerized assessment.

I can’t help but to think that if our goal is to increase student achievement, perhaps implementing an entirely new curriculum should not be our first priority. How about restoring teaching jobs and reducing class sizes for starters?

I’d like to hear what you have to say. Is your district making financial sacrifices in order to align with Common Core? Do you feel that preparing for Common Core should be a priority for your district right now?


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Common Core and Large Class Sizes

During my limited Common Core professional development trainings, I had the opportunity to watch videos of Common Core in action. We were shown videos of teachers expertly “facilitating” as bright-eyed students enthusiastically constructed their own learning. The excited students engaged in focused and complex discussions about the tasks at hand. The kids were all hard at work learning, and the teacher was circulating to ask clarifying questions and provide positive reinforcement. This was a pretty impressive demonstration of Common Core teaching. Clearly, this was the way to run a classroom!

Then reality started creeping in. I noticed that the bustling productive classroom in the video contained about 12 students. All 12 were on task and were able to converse in a polite and effective manner. Nobody was arguing, playing around, or wandering about the room. There were no students who just gave up and sat there. There were no hands in the air or calls of “I don’t get it.” The teacher never once had to redirect any misbehavior. I’m not so sure that I and my classroom of 37 inner-city students could recreate quite the same scene of productive, calm learning.

I’m told that our students simply need to be taught this new way of learning. Now I have plenty of faith in all of my students. I believe with all of my heart that they are all smart and capable people who can excel at anything they set their minds to. But I do question whether this unstructured approach to learning is well suited to all classrooms, particularly those with large class sizes. I absolutely advocate for students to have plenty of opportunities to work together, but I believe there needs to be a balance of direct instruction from the teacher as well.

I’d be interested in hearing your advice and opinions. Can anyone share any success stories of implementing the Core with larger class sizes?

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Common Core: Just the latest fad in education?

I’ve been teaching for eleven years. Each year, it seems there is a new focus or method we are supposed to embrace. One year, it was thinking maps. We were expected to use them with every lesson. They were the big “thing” that year, and were supposed to greatly enhance student learning. When I taught first grade reading, direct phonemic instruction was THE method for a few years. Reading was all about decoding letter sounds. A few years later, the focus completely shifted to whole language. Students learned to read by making sense of the story and pictures, with letter sounds taking a decisive backseat.

I’ve been in education long enough to see quite a few trends come and go. So when I first started hearing that something called the Common Core was coming, I assumed we were all just jumping on the next short-lived bandwagon. But this bandwagon seems to be arriving with more pomp and circumstance than the others I’ve seen. Teachers all over the nation are talking about it. It seems we are all in a slightly different place with regards to implementation, but we all know that it’s big and it’s coming.

Perhaps Common Core is more than just the latest fad, since for the first time the nation is coming together on specific educational standards and assessment. It certainly makes sense that students across the United States should be learning the same content. However, I do feel that the pedagogical shifts accompanying Common Core seem like the newest supposed magic bullet. Fiction is now supposed to take a backseat to expository text. Conceptual understanding in math is to trump skills memorization.

Is the educational pendulum just swinging again? Or is Common Core really here to stay? I’d be interested in hearing from you.


Preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessments


The upcoming 2013-2014 school year will be the last one in which California students will take the California Standards Test (CST). The following year, students will be required to take the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which align with the new Common Core Standards. In preparation for this transition, my district is requiring math teachers to give periodic standardized unit tests which are supposed to mirror the Smarter Balanced Assessments. During the past school year, we gave two such unit tests. These were in addition to our usual chapter tests and quizzes.

Starting this year, students will take six of these required unit tests per year. Like the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the district unit tests will be far more complex than the CST style multiple choice tests given in the past. These new tests include short constructed response, extended constructed response, and in-depth performance tasks. Even the multiple choice questions are more rigorous because generally more than one answer is correct, and students must select all correct answers. These unit tests are five to six pages long, and have a very complicated scoring rubric.

While I certainly agree that students will benefit from being required to go beyond the usual multiple choice assessments, I question whether these new unit tests are practical for teachers like me with 185 students per day. It took me approximately two hours to score the tests for each of my classes. With five classes per day, each time I give a unit test I am looking at 10 plus hours of grading. Additionally, 185 copies of a six page test require a lot of paper and copying time. At my school, we are allotted seven reams of paper per month. Once we run out, we buy our own. While I understand that we must prepare our students for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, I am concerned that these new required unit tests will require hours of additional time and resources that we simply do not have.

Has your district created new tests to align with the Smarter Balanced Assessments? If so, are they time intensive to produce, administer, and correct? Does anyone have any advice as to how to correct these types of tests more quickly? Is the increased amount of paper necessary for Common Core lessons and assessments an issue for you or your district?

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Lack of Adequate Common Core Training

I teach middle school math for a large urban district.  My school district was “transitioning” to the Common Core during this past school year (2012-2013).  This transition consisted of the implementation of two Common Core units designed by the district.  Each unit took approximately one week to teach, and consisted of a Formative Assessment Lesson (FAL), standardized homework problems, and a unit test.

A few days prior to each of these two units, teachers were offered a voluntary one hour training session after school.  Additionally, throughout the year we have been exposed to piecemeal information about Common Core at faculty and department meetings.  This information has been in the form of lecture and PowerPoint presentations that have detailed the shifts in focus, coherence, and rigor.  I would estimate my total Common Core training time at less than one day, yet I have been required to make a substantial shift in my instructional content and pedagogy for those two units.

This year (2013-2014), we are to fully implement Common Core.  Our content and instruction is to completely shift to align with the new standards.   We do not yet have textbooks that align with Common Core to guide us.  Due to a grant our district has received, teachers are being offered eight hours of Common Core training for the upcoming year.   Four hours of training will be provided at the start of the school year, and the remaining four hours will be provided midyear.  To say that I feel unprepared for the upcoming year is an understatement.  We teachers with approximately a day and a half of training and dated textbooks will be expected to correctly implement vastly new standards next year.

I’m curious as to the amount and quality of Common Core training provided by other districts. How much training did you receive last year? Was it productive? What is planned for the upcoming year? How prepared do you feel to implement the new standards?