teachers in a Common Core training

Alumni Newsletter

Gevirtz + Common Core

44 out of 50. Looks like a B on a spelling test, but it’s actually the proportion of states that have adopted Common Core standards for K-12 English/Language Arts and Math. Tempted by the incentive of $4.35 billion worth of funding from Race to the Top, an educational initiative led by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, states were quick to adopt educational reforms when they were released in 2009. Ultimately, only 15 states qualified for Race to the Top funds. But today, nearly every state has adopted Common Core standards, prompting a near-universal overhaul of American education systems.

The three main aspects of Common Core are changes in standards, student assessment, and classroom instruction. Common Core proponents like the companies who develop and market educational testing claim that the standards are a collaborative effort that builds on the best of current state standards and rigorous, research-based standards.  With such a momentous overhaul, teachers will need to rethink their approach to teaching. So what is the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education doing to help?

How we’re training new teachers

Changes to what and how students learn mean changes to what and how teachers learn. Across the UC System, teacher-training programs like the Teacher Education Program (TEP) at GGSE have redesigned their curriculums to suit Common Core standards. Coursework and fieldwork have been reexamined, as well as the role of technology in the classroom. Common Core’s computer-based testing standards demand a more thorough integration of technology in the everyday business of teaching. Lastly, UC faculty has had to adapt to Common Core standards to ensure that they’re providing future teachers with the best education possible.

“California's teachers and students are working towards fundamental changes in the way we experience education,” according to Tine Sloan, the Director of the TEP at UCSB "UC is making significant contributions within our educator-leader preparation and ongoing professional development programs.”

How we’re providing professional development

Ever since the California Board of Education adopted new Common Core standards for K-12 education in August 2010, Tim Dewar, Director of the South Coast Writing Project, Chris Ograin, Director of the UCSB Mathematics Project, and Sue Johnson, Co-Director of the South Coast Science Project, have had to rethink their approach to teacher education. “When we do professional development with our math teachers, [restructuring teacher education is] the number one thing we talk about,” Ograin claims. "Teachers need to get their students to engage in mathematics using practices such as making sense of complex problems and constructing viable arguments. This is very different from the traditional model, so teachers are nervous."

According to Ograin, “It’s a great effort to shift the balance from procedural fluency to conceptual understanding and complex problem-solving.” He noted that the standards attempt to “eliminate the ‘mile wide, inch deep’ approach,” and place greater emphasis on argumentation, statistics, and probability in order to promote not just college preparation but career and real-world readiness as well. There’s also been a push to incorporate more writing into the math curriculum. “They’re not doing extra [material], they’re understanding it at a deeper level,” Ograin says.

Lilly Garcia, Director of STEM Outreach for GGSE, echoes his sentiment. “The goal is that over time teachers will learn that the practices support each other,” she said, referring to the push to integrate applying English and Language Arts skills to Math and Science.

By facilitating teacher education and development through the California Subject Matter Projects in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, the GGSE does more unified work with the Tri-Projects--writing, science, and math--than most universities. According to Garcia,“The Tri-Projects have created a space for us to learn from each other, impacting teachers and school districts in the process.”

How we’re strengthening standards & examining effectiveness

Sloan, who recently represented GGSE at a legislative briefing in Sacramento titled “On the Brink: UC’s Role in Research and Implementation of the Common Core and Next-Generation Science Standards,” noted that in addition to providing teacher education, research institutions like UCSB are making significant headway in evaluating educational practices like Common Core.

“UC has very high-quality educator preparation, but our mission in this area goes beyond the preparation of excellent teachers and educational leaders,” she says. “We also research model programs, mentor doctoral candidates into the work of teacher education, and inform policy and practice.”

Some educators like Dewar, who works with teachers in the field through the Tri-Projects, are skeptical of Common Core and believe that there’s ample room for reassessment and improvement. “There’s a real act of hubris behind the standards,” he said. “I don’t know if they really tapped into the knowledge that practitioners and researchers have as to how kids learn.”

While new standards are the most visible change in the educational landscape, Dewar stressed that it will be the work of teachers that ultimately make a difference for students. “The daily experience of teaching doesn’t change because you’ve changed the standards,” he says. “Where I believe results will be found is by teachers working together.”

Through the Tri-Projects and TEP, GGSE promotes teacher collaboration wherever possible. Standards or no standards, it is working together and learning from each other that ultimately makes better teachers.