By Meg Tully
And almost nine out of 10 (88%) answered there are still significant challenges to understanding and implementing new evaluation systems that measure progress on teaching Common Core.
The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), a teachers union that represents about 70,000 teachers and support staff, surveyed teachers online in May and then followed up last week.
The state is one of many across the country implementing Common Core standards, which were developed to achieve more consistency across the nation. This is the first school year for the new curriculum. PARCC, an accompanying standardized test, is scheduled to be implemented next year.
“We as a union are not opposed to education reform, and we’re not opposed to accountability and stronger teacher evaluations,” said MSEA President Betty Weller. “We want to make sure our folks are prepared, that they have the time and resources and professional development to get it right. Because that matters for our students.”
William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said that it was difficult to draw many conclusions from the survey because it was 700 respondents out of about 100,000 educators.
“Maryland fully implemented the new standards in each system two months ago, and differences in implementation by each system and school are understandable,” Reinhard said in an email. “We continue to work closely with our systems on professional development.”
Teachers complain about problems with implementation
In an open-ended section of the survey, teachers were allowed to leave their personal thoughts on the changes.
Many complained that they had not had time to adequately prepare for the new curriculum, and talked about technical problems accessing materials.
For instance, one teacher said that initial English Language Arts elementary curriculum was delivered the first week in August and then it was revised while they were implementing it. The electronic link was not user friendly, and a second unit has been delivered and then revised as well. The teacher said the curriculum should have been distributed last spring.
“I don’t believe a surgeon would operate on a patient two days after reading about a new surgical procedure one time,” the teacher said.
Time to prepare lessons was addressed in the survey results as well, with 43% receiving curriculum two weeks or less ahead of time, and 96% wanting it more than two weeks ahead of time.
Another teacher complained that special education instructors were given no specialized curriculum information or training, and when they were sent to general training there were no copies for them.
Weller also noted that many teachers were concerned because textbooks are no longer aligned with the curriculum. If a math concept was moved from sixth grade to fifth grade, for example, many times the fifth grade teachers would not have access to the textbooks that discuss that concept.
Academy information not passed along
A major vehicle for professional development by the state in advance of the changes was Educator Effectiveness Academies, which provided intensive training workshops to teachers. Reinhard said that more than 7,000 educators directly attended those academies this summer.
But more than 82% of survey respondents did not attend an academy in 2011, 2012 or 2013, and only about 50% had gotten a presentation in their school about what they learned after attending an academy.
The survey was answered by teachers in every county except Frederick and Montgomery. Those two counties were omitted because they did not accept federal funds that tie teacher evaluations to standardized tests on the new curriculum.
Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat who is also a sixth grade social studies teacher, said that lawmakers may turn their attention to Common Core and standardized test implementation during the next Maryland General Assembly.
In an op/ed in The Baltimore Sun published this week, he and another teacher called for the state to halt plans to continue with the Maryland School Assessment this year – which is based on the old curriculum no longer taught. Giving the MSA will cost about $6 million he said.
And he may propose legislation to allow parents to opt out of standardized tests for their children. Overall, he felt the survey was reflective of a problem teachers were seeing across the state.
“I fear that what we’re seeing is the early stages of a slow motion disaster,” Luedtke said. “If we’re not preparing to teach the Common Core, if we’re not preparing our schools to give PARCC we could really be setting ourselves up to really do harm to our students.”