The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have just offered their draft of much-needed college and career readiness curriculum standards for students, reflecting the demands of the 21st century world in which students will live as adults. Thus far, however, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is paying too little attention to the context in which these standards will be firmed up. And while the group led by NGA and CCSSO acknowledges the need for new investments in higher quality performance assessments and the spread of teacher expertise, we do not hear how sorely these investments are needed.
Next we look to the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which reveals that fewer teachers in schools with high proportions of low-income students strongly agree that their schools uphold high standards for all students. Teachers in these schools are also less likely to be confident that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to help their students succeed academically. That shouldn’t surprise us: More and more of the teachers who enter high-needs schools have less and less high-quality teacher preparation. Too many are flying solo in classrooms with only a few weeks of training — mostly tips on how to manage classrooms — when they need serious preparation to help our most challenged students master the 21st century skills called for by the Common Core student standards.
And then there's the recession. As the need to make deeper investments in students and teachers becomes ever clearer, we are now learning the extent to which the current economic crisis is forcing districts to lay off teachers and cut back on the number of days students attend school. Yesterday, the Kansas City Board of Education voted to close almost half of its schools and cut 700 of 3,000 jobs directly related to student achievement, including almost 300 classroom teachers. When a school district like Kansas City with many high-need students has to cut $50 million from its budget, one wonders how our nation will muster the extra resources to help millions of American children on the wrong side of the achievement gap reach new global standards of achievement.
And then there’s the media hysteria.
Newsweek blares a cover page story claiming that the key to saving America’s “failing public schools” is to fire all of the bad teachers protected by their unions. Yes, there are unfit teachers and we shouldn’t let them teach anybody’s children. But few experts would suggest that the number is very high — and certainly not so high that by removing them we will instantly solve the complex problems that plague high-needs schools and communities. Newsweek’s editors never once reflect on root causes — like the large numbers of ill-prepared teachers who enter and exit teaching quickly, or the many high-needs schools led by a revolving door of ill-trained principals who botch teacher evaluation and undermine the potential for effective teachers to work together to solve the problems in their own schools. Most blatantly, the article fails to consider just how our present mechanisms for teacher recruitment and preparation will replace teachers lost in wholesale firing frenzies. With laid-off journalists, perhaps?
If we expect all students to jump the bar of higher expectations now being raised by the Common Core Initiative, we will first have to own up to the contradictions that are impeding progress in our most challenged schools. Serious investments. Teacher preparation and support. Better leadership development. These are the things that will strengthen our schools. Not a teacher witch hunt.