College- and career-ready standards efforts must equip teachers with strong supports to help students meet new, higher expectations

Publication date: Mar 30, 2012

WASHINGTON (March 30, 2012) -— For years, our nation’’s public schools have struggled to bridge the gap between what high schools require and the skills and knowledge students need to be successful after graduation day. To close that gap, 45 states and three territories are adopting a common set of college- and career-ready standards.

But those higher standards represent a massive expectations shift, one that must be coupled with rich supports for teachers if the new standards are to be more than an empty promise of higher achievement for our nation’s students.

In a new report released today, “Instructional Supports: The Missing Piece in State Education Standards,” The Education Trust outlines the hard work that must be done to equip educators with the comprehensive set of tools and resources they’’ll need to ensure that all of their students reach these new, higher expectations.

“”Recent history is filled with state efforts to raise K-12 standards, efforts that too often overlooked this key ingredient for successful implementation and fell short of both student needs and public expectations,” said Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust and author of the report. “”Without the kinds of structures and systems in place that help teachers work smarter, not just harder, teachers struggle to develop their own interpretations of what to teach, not just how to teach it.””

That’s why groups like The Education Trust and the American Federation of Teachers have been calling for supportive materials —- aligned to the standards — that teachers can customize for their own classrooms. For example: Teachers would be well served by curricular maps that outline the knowledge and skills required by the new standards, and provide a logical progression of student learning at particular ages and in specific content areas. The curricular maps should be coupled with comprehensive banks of detailed instructional tools that borrow from what works, provide a clear picture of what excellence looks like, and come with training and professional development on how to best use the available resources.

These tools arm teachers with clear expectations and high-quality lesson plans, diagnostic tools and curricular units they can employ to help them understand exactly where their students are and how they can help move them forward. In this way, teachers are freed to customize the resources to meet the specific needs of their students.

Given both capacity and resources, states -— as opposed to districts or schools —- are best positioned for the responsibility of assembling, maintaining and updating these resource banks, enabling districts to monitor the consistency and quality of instruction across schools.

Some states have already begun this work. Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina, for example, are partnering on an open-source platform slated for rollout in 2013. This new resource will contain diagnostic tools, curricular units and sample lesson plans all aimed at preparing students for college and career, and will be shared across the states.

And just yesterday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the College and Career Readiness Classrooms Act, which would create a competitive grant program for states to fund professional development for educators designed to help turn these higher expectations into higher achievement for our students.

“”We’’ve set the right goal: Get to consistent, high standards that prepare all students, regardless of their ZIP code, for life after high school,”” said Almy. “”Now, we need to take the guessing game out of the interpretation of those standards so that teachers in every part of this country have the tools they need to get the job done and can focus on the business of teaching.””

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