Teachers grade Common Core: C+ and room for improvement

A survey of teachers on Common Core education standards showed mixed results. Half of teachers surveyed think Common Core standards help students with critical thinking, but their enthusiasm has waned.

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    Canyon View math teacher Kylie Findley works with her students during her morning class in Cedar City, Utah. Ms. Findley uses the Common Core curriculum in her classroom.
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Teachers feel more prepared to teach the Common Core State Standards and are already starting to see students improve their critical thinking skills. But the enthusiasm has dipped since last year, and only half say the new standards will be positive for most students.

Those are some key findings in a survey of 1,676 K-12 teachers in the 43 states that have adopted Common Core, released Friday by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Common Core continues to generate political controversy.  Some states have backed away from the math and English standards designed to promote college- and career-readiness. And Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has sued the Obama administration, saying it coerced states into adopting them.

But for teachers in 43 states, implementation is a day-to-day reality. The survey, a follow-up to a larger survey last year, gives insight to the mixture of progress and continuing challenges in the classroom.

Without a lot of resources, state and district leaders “are facing challenges trying to deal with the thornier aspect of implementation, professional development being one of them,” says Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University. “Teachers are an important voice” on the Common Core, she says.

The survey found clear progress on implementation of the standards. Twenty-five percent of teachers said implementation is complete in their schools, and another 39 percent said it is mostly complete (up from 13 and 33 percent last year).

In schools where implementation was fully complete in 2013-14, most teachers agreed somewhat (62 percent) or strongly (24 percent) that implementation was going well.

Seventy-nine percent of teachers said they feel somewhat or very prepared to teach the new standards, up from 71 percent a year ago.

In schools where implementation is under way or complete, 53 percent of teachers said students have already improved their ability to think critically, use reasoning skills, and present their ideas based on evidence; 50 percent said students are better able to comprehend informational texts; and 46 percent said students are working more collaboratively with peers.

However, the percentage who said they are enthusiastic about the standards declined from 73 percent to 68 percent. And the percentage who said implementation is or will be challenging has climbed from 73 percent to 81 percent.

Teachers are split on the impact on students: 48 percent said Common Core will be positive for most students, 17 percent said they will be negative, and the remainder said they won’t make much difference. Last year, 57 percent said the standards would be positive and only 8 percent said they would be negative.

Teachers are concerned with what will happen to students who have the longest road to travel to meet the standards and how student scores on new assessments will affect teacher evaluations.

But “the teachers who were more negative were also less involved with implementing the Common Core,” and tended to get information more from the media than from their own districts, says Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education. The survey findings suggest that when it comes to Common Core implementation, “the more you do it, the more you love it,” she says.

The “Primary Sources” survey was sponsored by Scholastic, a publisher and educational technology company, and the Gates Foundation, which has provided significant financial support to develop and promote the Common Core. YouGov, an international Internet-based market-research firm, conducted the survey in July.

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