This article originally appeared on Bluff City Education on September 30th, 2014

common-core-iconThis past week the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development at Vanderbilt released the results of their 2014 First to the Top Survey of Tennessee Public School Teachers. Notably, their survey data revealed declining support  among teachers for the Common Core State Standards here in Tennessee, with a majority now indicating that they want to abandon or delay implementation of the standards.

On the surface this survey looks pretty bad for Common Core. But digging through the survey reveals a potential playbook for the State Department of Education to win teachers back to the Core. Fundamentally, these details reveal that you can’t just drop teachers into Common Core and expect them to figure it out on their own. Without a considerable change in the way that we support teachers and provide them with resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards, we will likely see support continue to decline.

The first detail that must be noted is that the response rate for common core questions is low enough to force us to question the generalizability of their results to all teachers. Only 31 percent of the 10,000 teachers actually responded to the questions about Common Core. This raises the specter that these results may not actually represent the true thoughts of teachers across Tennessee. However, it’s what we have so we’ll go with it.

Second, this shift does not seem to be the product of teachers teaching Common Core and deciding that it doesn’t work. To answer this question, the survey looked at teachers in 3-8 math and ELA, who have more experience with the Common Core than any other educators. These teachers weren’t any more opposed to the standards than teachers in the general survey population. As the authors note, “if opposition is largely the result of negative experiences in the classroom, we would expect to see a more pronounced shift against CCSS among such teachers.”

Third, poor implementation of the standards leads to declining teacher support for Common Core. The survey asked teachers three questions related to support; 1) have the standards and their implementation plan been clearly communicated to you, 2) how many hours of professional development (PD) have you engaged in on the core since last summer and 3) did you interact with any common core coaches this past year?

In all three cases, better communication and PD resulted in higher support for the standards. Teachers who felt they understood the state’s implementation plan strongly supported the standards, at a rate of around 60 percent. The more hours of PD a teacher received, the higher their support for the standards (though it still didn’t break 50 percent). Additionally, teachers that interacted personally with a trained Common Core Coach strongly agreed with the statement that “teaching to the CCSS will improve student learning” compared to those who did not.

You can see the this data for yourself in the graphs below (data source: First to the Top Survey).

Communicated

PD Hours

Core Coach Interaction

Fourth, many of the open responses cite implementation difficulties, such as the lack of aligned classroom materials and insufficient training, as a major concern. The survey also included a qualitative component that asked teachers for open response feedback. Many respondents noted that the phase in has been too fast and has not adequately prepared teachers or students for the rigor of Common Core. Many teachers are also concerned about the Core as it relates to testing and evaluations, feeling that it is unfair to evaluate them on these more rigorous standards without adequate training or resources to support them.

This carries considerable policy implications for the way we handle Common Core here in Tennessee going forward. It suggests that the decline in support isn’t a result of trying Common Core and finding it wanting. Rather, the problem lays in the way that it’s being implemented and messaged to teachers. It is the result of frustration, of teachers feeling they aren’t getting the support necessary to understand what Common Core should look like in their classrooms. Those teachers who have received support (contact with core coaches, extensive PD) are typically more supportive, but these experiences likely represent a minority given the growing opposition to the core among Tennessee teachers.

This suggests a playbook for the Department of Education. To win back teachers, what I think we need is a comprehensive plan by the to deliver wide-spread and comprehensive professional development, led by trained coaches experienced with teaching the Common Core in their own content areas and supported by curricular resources that are easily accessible for teachers.

Some of this exists now at the state level through the TNCore’s website, but it’s not close enough to the average teacher. If we truly want to get teachers back on the side of Common Core, this survey suggests that we need a new approach for how we train them to implement the standards. The playbook is right there in the survey – better messaging of the implementation plan, increased PD and personal interaction with Core Coaches. Unless this approach is adopted, we’ll likely continue to see support for Common Core continue to decline here in Tennessee among teachers.

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