English teachers generally like the new national curricular standards known as the Common Core, but few of them have actually made the most important shifts required, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, surveyed 1,154 English, language arts and reading teachers in the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core, a set of math and English standards developed by two national organizations that aim to increase critical thinking and problem solving skills.
The survey was conducted in early 2012, though, and the results are likely already outdated, said the paper’s author Tim Shanahan. Its primary purpose is to serve as a baseline to which Fordham can compare follow up surveys. “Obviously if we went back and surveyed today, I’d expect to see some changes,” Shanahan said. But “we’d probably be very upset that things hadn’t changed as much as they should have.”
A recent Hechinger Report project that took an in-depth look at how Common Core is affecting teaching and learning in seven states came to similar conclusions. While some teachers were actively changing their curriculum to align with the new standards, others were approaching the change with more caution – particularly in states with uncertainties about whether the standards will remain in place or how they will be tested.
In Kentucky, for instance, the first state to adopt the Common Core and begin introducing the standards in classrooms, there is still large variation in how devoted teachers and principals are.
In the Fordham survey, 62 percent of teachers said they thought that Common Core would have a positive impact on students and 65 percent said they had gotten professional development on it. But most of these same teachers were still failing to adopt some of the most crucial changes the new standards bring.
Most notably, Common Core requires students to be taught grade-level texts, a stark shift from the conventional wisdom that has dominated English classrooms for decades and dictates that students should be assigned readings that match their current skill level, even if it is below what is expected for their grade. Sixty-four percent of elementary teachers surveyed said that they “make substantial effort” to pair students with books at their level.
The teachers aren’t necessarily at fault, though, says Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “You have to blame people like me for that. We taught them if the text was hard, move to something easier,” he said. “Common Core is really saying, ‘If you want to get kids to high levels of language, you’re going to have to have them reading some complex texts.’”
So what will it take for Common Core to start making its mark on all classrooms? Shanahan predicts that will happen as soon as the Common Core-aligned tests are released in the 2014-2015 school year.
“When you think of how big and diverse and disconnected the system is…it’s not shocking that it takes that long to roll out any kind of implementation,” he said. “In 2015, you’d better be seeing some really significant changes.”