This year, California becomes one of 44 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English and math. The Common Core is meant to raise the bar. Nearly 60 percent of first-year college students are not ready for college-level work and have to take remedial courses in English or math, lowering college success rates. Common Core standards are designed to be “college ready” and career ready, better preparing students to be independent, critical readers and writers in English, better problem solvers in math.
Around the country, there has been some very heated debate about these new standards, but recent polls show that 73 percent of math, English, science, and social studies teachers in states that have adopted them say they are enthusiastic about the Common Core, whereas 60 percent of the general public have no idea what it is.
Another issue is the transition to Common Core. Student standardized test scores have declined in many places that have transitioned to the Common Core, attributed to the increased difficulty of the tests. In Oakland, test scores declined last year under the phasing out, presumably sue to the relatively easier California Standards Tests. But Superintendent Gary Yee told the Oakland Tribune the drop in scores can be attributed to improved teaching as districts transition to the Common Core curriculum, which shuns learning to memorize for tests and pushes critical thinking.
The transition to the Common Core has been difficult and uneven for many states. The state of California has provided targeted funds to districts for the transition—Oakland has received half of its $7 million allotment (about $2,500 per teacher). Districts need to inform every school about the new expectations for student learning. Schools and teachers need to consider changes to curriculum, assignments, grading, and more. The standards are meant to increase students’ critical thinking skills, and it’s up to teachers to change they way they teach and the curriculum many have used for years.
So how is the implementation going at Oakland schools?
We asked Lisa Rothbard, a teacher leader in the Skyline High School English Department and a GO Teacher Policy Fellow. Lisa said the district has made the transition to the new standards “a serious priority.” But she’s also very aware that her transition to teaching Common Core-style is still a work in progress. Last year, the district launched a monthly network to provide a teacher leader like Lisa from each school with training and materials they take back to their schools to help prepare colleagues for the shift. This approach gives each school flexibility, leadership, and responsibility for how to make the transition to CCSS.
“Teachers often feel like, every year, there’s some new effort and new direction thrown at us that will not be seen through,” Lisa said in an interview with the Hetchinger Report. “But this is different. There’s a continuity to what we’re working on, and our district is empowering teacher leadership.” Rather than wholesale change, Rothbard sees the goals of Common Core at the high school level as encouraging teachers to create a smarter version of what they had been doing before.
On September 25, staff from the Oakland Unified School District gave a presentation on how the Common Core is being implemented in OUSD. Associate Superintendent of Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Kyla Johnson-Trammell spoke about the timeline for implementing the Common Core across the district. Johnson-Trammell said OUSD staff have been working with “content experts” to come up with “a guide in terms of quality teaching and learning” and getting back to “what teachers have always known to be good, quality teaching and learning and having the space to do that.”
Teachers in OUSD were given a “Core Curriculum Guide” which is intended to “support teachers as they move away from the script,” Johnson-Trammell said. This includes student work examples for ELA and math, sample instructional planning tools and lessons, and instructional strategies. Principals were given a “Site Implementation Guide,” for principals and school leadership to monitor teaching and learning.
Johnson-Trammell said district staff are monitoring the implementation of the Common Core by “doing a better job of getting feedback from the sites” about what is and isn’t working. She said more than 40 people have been trained as facilitators to help with the implementation.
During the comment period, Esperanza Elementary teacher Chaz Garcia stated that “teachers are really stressed” about the implementation of the Common Core. “They haven’t been given thoughtful, well planned out professional development.” Most, she added (including herself) were given a half-day of training. “In order for any change to work well for our students,” Garcia told the Board, “we have to really be thoughtful and very strategic on how things are brought down, presented and implemented in the classroom.”
We want to hear from teachers, parents, and others—how is the Common Core being implemented at your school? Lisa mentioned two school concerns: sufficient planning time and the technology plan (Common Core-aligned tests are design to be taken on computers and schools typically do not have enough computers for this). What is the situation at your school? Let us know in the comments section here, or email GO communications manager Ryan Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll follow up with you for comment in a future newsletter.
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.