Despite millions in public funding and years of planning to implement the new Common Core State Standards, nearly two-thirds of teachers surveyed by the Maryland teachers’ union said last month that they were not ready to teach the Common Core curriculum that will be in effect statewide during the 2013-14 school year, prompting the union to warn of a “direct, negative impact on students.” Levels of teacher preparedness in Harford County Public Schools were among the lowest reported in the state.
Conducted by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) in early May, the online survey of over 500 teachers in 21 Maryland counties showed 64% felt inadequately prepared to implement the Common Core next school year, and 82% saw “significant challenges” to understanding and implementing the Common Core in their respective school.
The state-mandated Common Core curriculum for students in grades K-12 is based on the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts, which were established via the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and have been adopted by 45 states. Considered by Maryland educators to be more rigorous than the existing state curriculum, the goal of the Common Core is to improve college and career readiness among high school graduates.
In addition, 72% of teachers surveyed told MSEA they felt inadequately prepared for the state-mandated evaluation system for teachers and principals, which is also set for implementation in the 2013-14 school year. Under the new system, 50% of evaluations must be comprised of various measurements of student growth, including state test scores.
The overall survey results in Maryland mirror teacher opinions nationwide on Common Core readiness, and follow years of planning to implement the new standards and evaluation system, adoption of which helped the state win a federal Race to the Top grant in August 2010. The grant totaled $250 million over four years.
What difference does teacher preparedness make? According to a statement by MSEA President Betty Weller, “If teachers don’t receive the support they need to implement these changes successfully, it will have a direct, negative impact on students. We can’t close our eyes and hope for the best. This survey should be a wake-up call for more focus, more professional development, and more consideration of how to implement these changes successfully.”
Maryland Schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery acknowledged problems with teacher preparedness in response to a question at a conference held in Harford County last week. Citing professional development efforts to prepare teachers, Lowery added, “The devil is in the details.” Readiness within each county, she said, was “about leadership and how aggressive it was.” Rather than “admire the problem,” Lowery said, “at some point you have to get started.”
In Harford County Public Schools, the small group of teachers who responded to the MSEA survey reported readiness levels that were among the lowest in the state. Of the 36 survey respondents from HCPS, only 22% felt adequately prepared for the Common Core, and 6% said they were adequately prepared for the new evaluations.
Related professional development was reported as either completely lacking in HCPS, or rated below the state average for both initiatives. The full survey results appear below.
Harford County Public School officials didn’t directly contradict the survey findings, but instead offered a review of preparation activities.
The Dagger posed the following questions in late May to Superintendent Robert M. Tomback and associate superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, Bill Lawrence. A copy of the exchange appears below:
“Have Harford County teachers been adequately prepared for Common Core implementation next year?
To date, have all teachers received professional development on the Common Core?
What are the plans for [professional development] and other preparation between now and the start of school next year?
Regarding the new evaluation system, the vast majority of those surveyed say they have received no [professional development] on the new system and are not adequately prepared. Would you please explain how HCPS has prepared teachers for the new evaluation system?
Finally, why might the teachers surveyed think, by an overwhelming majority, that they are unprepared for initiatives that have been in the works for several years?
Any other statement you would like to offer would be welcome.”
The Response, provided via Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications:
“On February 11, 2013 and then again on March 11, 2013, the Board of Education received a presentation regarding Common Core State Standards and the Teacher/Principal Evaluation system. I am linking you to those Board exhibits because I believe they will answer majority of your questions.
In addition, you will read in the exhibits that a conference is scheduled for this summer called Shifts in Education. It is a three-day conference focusing on:
• Teacher Evaluation Process
• Student Learning Objectives
• Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching Self-assessment
• Common Core Basics
• Common Core Mathematics
• Common Core English/Language Arts/Reading
• Common Core State Standards in Unified Arts and Physical Education
• Disciplinary Literacy 101
• Disciplinary Literacy in the Social Sciences
• Disciplinary Literacy in Science
• Accountability Basics
• Moving Forward with Universal Design for Learning
We currently have 80 teachers across the county piloting the teacher evaluation system.”
Asked whether teachers in HCPS were adequately prepared for the new initiatives next year, Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association was more direct: “We’re totally unprepared,” he said. “Prepared means understanding what you need to do and having the time to do it.” Speaking of Tomback and Lawrence, Burbey said, “They feel like we are more prepared than I feel we are.”
While Burbey said that Tomback, as superintendent, was ultimately responsible, he saw plenty of blame to go around. First, Burbey said, Race to the Top money, some of which trickled down to HCPS, paid for positions to execute the new initiatives, but the money came before the recession hit. Then, the county executive took money back from the schools budget, money that Burbey said came from professional development. Plus, HCPS was trying to get by “on the cheap” with the Common Core, he said, using a strategy that trained selected individuals, such as principals, instructional facilitators, and department chairs, who would then train everyone else.
The strategy was ineffective, Burbey said, in part because the quality of the training varied from person to person and from school to school.
Below is a link to more information about the MSEA survey, followed by the survey results: http://harfordcea.org/commoncoresurvey2013/