Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Adult Learning and Common Core Implementation

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

I recently attended an event showcasing state initiatives that focus on the goal of ensuring all third grade students read on grade level – a lofty and perfectly reasonable goal.  The participants in the program included three governors as well as a panel of state superintendents of education.  One of the governors kept mentioning that in her state too much attention has been paid to the adults in the system to the detriment of the students.  Her belief in this root cause of the disappointing literacy rate of her state’s third grade students struck a cord and reminded me of another event hosted by Learning Forward and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) last month. That event, Advancing the Common Core: State Strategies for Transforming Professional Learning, showcased a set of resources to improve teacher practice developed under the leadership of Learning Forward with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sandler Foundation, and the MetLife Foundation. It included a panel of education leaders at the state and local level who have participated and contributed to the project.

One panel member, Cynthia Cash-Greene, superintendent of the Orangeburg (SC) Consolidated School District #3, was especially impressive, and her message resonated with me.  She said district leaders need to be bold and know what they stand for.  She has focused on mastery for her teachers.  As she asserted from her own experience:  “Change the behavior of the teacher, and you’ll change the behavior of the students.”  The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a challenge for her teachers, so she created a document comparing the existing standards with the new CCSS so teachers could see where the gaps were.  She also maintained that more time is needed for the proper preparation for all the adults in the system to understand and adopt the new standards and has instituted parent liaison and book study sessions as well as career development programs with professionals.

As Cash-Greene’s fellow panelist, Principal Bryant Gillis from Tichenor Middle School in Erlanger, KY, stated, “How we lead change is the important thing.”  And, he reiterated the importance of a school culture that engenders trust among the adults working together.

The event also featured the release of a report, Seizing the Moment: State Lessons for Transforming Professional Learning. This report, based on the recognition that leadership in creating stronger professional learning systems begins at the state level and is distributed to all levels of the education system, offers lessons learned from one state’s work in doing so. Lessons include:

  • Leaders and participants must build a consensus about professional learning policy
  • State leaders must work across agencies and departments to establish a coherent policy framework
  • Elements of a comprehensive system of professional learning must be reflected in legislation and state school board regulation
  • Education stakeholders, especially teachers, must be engaged in authentic ways
  • Educators, especially teachers, must be empowered to lead communications about the need for policy changes
  • Technology systems are investments to support and track implementation

This excellent report and robust set of resources aimed at the “adults in the system” reminds us all that a public education system can only produce 100 percent literacy rates for third grade students – or help all students achieve under rigorous new academic standards – if the professionals in the system are supported with ongoing learning opportunities to help them stay abreast of new research on pedagogy and standards and respects their need for lifelong learning and professional growth.  When we invest in the adults in the system, the students will prosper as well.

Image by Chris Keating (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons