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This piece was co-authored with Dean Vogel, President of the California Teachers Association. It first appeared in the Sacramento Bee. View the original here.

The new school year brings one of the biggest transitions our state’s elementary and secondary education system has ever experienced. As students settle into new classrooms, our teachers are adjusting their instruction to help students meet expectations of the new Common Core state standards. It’s our job – as parents, business leaders, students, community members and educators – to look beyond both the hype and hysteria to ensure that students benefit from thoughtful, locally driven implementation.

Part of the challenge we’re facing is a lack of clear information about what the standards are and aren’t. They emphasize critical thinking, problem solving and inquiry-based learning – what students need to thrive in college and in today’s global economy. Far from prescribing what should be taught or how, the new standards outline what students should know while giving teachers the flexibility to decide how to help each student get there. Under Common Core, there are actually fewer standards, allowing teachers to slow down and students to explore each topic in depth. ...

When we discuss the implementation of new college- and career-ready standards, such as the Common Core, we talk a lot about how teachers can adapt their practice to best help students achieve. And we talk a bit about the important role that principals, superintendents and parents will play in the process.

One stakeholder is rarely mentioned: The school counselor. Yet the adoption of new standards directly impacts their daily work, their pre-service training and their professional learning.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is in the process of updating their Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success, which identify and prioritize the specific attitudes, knowledge and skills that students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a school counseling program. This document is intended to serve as the foundation for classroom lessons, small group work and activities within a school counseling program, and its newest iteration will be aligned with the Common Core, as well as with other national, state and district level documents.

In a recent e-interview, ASCA Assistant Director Eric Sparks took the time to tell us more about this project and the important role that school counselors play in academic support, as well as how their work is shifting with the adoption of new college- and career-ready standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): What are the topline messages that those in the education community who are not school counselors – such as teachers, principals and parents – should know about the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success?

Sparks: The ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success describe the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students need to achieve academic success, college and career readiness and social/emotional development. ...

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

This is the 46th year for the annual PDK/Gallup Poll, a survey that wants to know what the public thinks about their public schools. As usual, there is a lot to absorb from the responses to the questions, and the answers raise more questions that must be answered. Because the poll revisits questions asked in previous years, it is a window to changing opinions about public schools. This year’s poll suggests that Americans aren’t sure they like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or even that the federal government should be involved in public schools. Everyone interested in improving public schools, and especially those who consider themselves “reformers”, should pay close attention to this poll – because public education is not something that is “done” to people. The people speaking are the people who own and pay for public schools and whose children are being educated in them. What they think and what they want matter.

Among the 33% of Americans who favor CCSS, they do so because these standards will help children learn what they need to know regardless of their zip code. Common Core was initiated as a way to bring consistently high standards to public schools across the country and to make sure that the quality of a student’s education does not depend on zip code or state ...

Today, the first results of the 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools were released.* The overall conclusion: Americans aren’t convinced that federal involvement will improve public education.

The report is called Try It Again, Uncle Sam, but some of the topline findings suggest that Get Out of the Way, Uncle Sam may better reflect the public’s views on the federal role in education – as the report notes, a majority of Americans do not support public education initiatives they believe were created or promoted by federal policymakers. Consider:

  • 56% of Americans say local school boards should have the greatest influence in deciding what is taught in the public schools
  • 60% of Americans who are aware of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) oppose having teachers in their community use them to guide what they teach
    ...

In April, the Learning First Alliance issued a statement urging states to take the proper time to implement the Common Core State Standards. Believing in the potential that the standards have to transform teaching and learning, we worry about rushing to make high-stakes decisions (such as student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance designation) based on assessments of the standards before they have been fully and properly implemented. So we – in a call that has been echoed by others – urged a transition period during which such high-stakes are removed. And we are pleased to see that places like New York and Washington, DC, are heeding that call.

But when we get that time, how should we best use it to get CCSS implementation right and help students achieve these higher standards?

Last week, we hosted a Twitter Town Hall – hashtag #CCSStime – to start exploring that issue. We were overwhelmed with the participation – more than 600 Twitter users sent out nearly 2,000 tweets during the hour-long event. To quote Eduflack's coverage:

It was the beginning of a very important discussion, all of which can be found at #CCSStime. Why was it so important? Mainly because it was a productive talk on how to get it right, not on urban legends or dreaming ways to short circuit standards that are not going away.

See below for highlights from the conversation ...

By Amber Jimenez, American Federation of Teachers member and ELL teacher in Colville, WA

I like to take the first few weeks of summer vacation to do some serious reflection. I think about the school year and my successes and failures. This helps determine which books I read and classes I attend to help me prepare for the next school year. For the last few years, though, I have also thought seriously about teaching as a profession, how we as teachers are perceived, and how decisions and trends policy makers make affect my teaching practice.

Accountability seems to be the big buzz word these days. Starting with NCLB when I was a new teacher, districts began to take a closer look at student subgroups and became accountable for their success. As an ELL teacher I was happy to see a greater focus on my students’ progress. Yet NCLB’s focus on punishment in the end hurt my students. Because they needed more support, my elementary students lost access to the arts and even core subjects of science and social studies in the push towards reading and math. My high school students also lost out on elective opportunities because they needed to take resource and support classes to improve their test scores. My students were not well rounded and for many of them, the “fun part” of school was lost. Race to the Top wasn’t much better. States are relying on waivers from NCLB to retain funding. My new home state even recently lost its waiver. Our accountability system is up in the air. ...

By Shannon Sevier, Vice President for Advocacy, National PTA

National PTA recently released a video series on the Common Core to educate parents on the standards and empower them to support the implementation of the standards at school and home. The series was developed in partnership with The Hunt Institute as part of the association’s ongoing efforts to provide accurate information about the Common Core, ensure parents are knowledgeable about the standards and new assessments, and support parents every step of the way as states transition to the standards.

The series features 14 videos that highlight the importance of and need for clear, consistent and rigorous standards; dispel myths about the Common Core; and provide perspectives from educators, administrators, PTA leaders and others on the positive changes they’ve seen with the standards. The videos also spotlight the steps PTAs can take to effectively advocate for the standards in their communities. ...

The results of Maryland’s annual reading and math assessments were recently announced – and scores are at their lowest level in seven years, according to The Washington Post. Why? In large part, because the state is currently teaching to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but the tests are not aligned to them. So ultimately, as social studies teacher and Maryland state legislator Eric Luedtke said, “The scores mean nothing at all. You are testing kids on content that they are no longer learning.”

Maryland education officials were prepared for this situation – both State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery and Maryland State Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith are quoted in the Post article acknowledging it directly. And the results had “no bearing on school accountability measures or principal and teacher evaluations” – appropriate, given that the tests did not reflect what was happening in the classroom.

But the Maryland situation is far from unique. Across the country, schools, districts and states are in different phases of Common Core implementation. In some places, the standards have been adopted, but the curriculum not yet aligned. In others, the curriculum has been aligned, but the assessments have not. In still others, the standards and assessments have been aligned, but the curriculum has not. In all, educators are working hard to implement, but they are not done yet. ...

It is no secret that in many places the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack. Yet despite what those of us paying attention to the debate at the national level hear, the fact is that there are a number of communities in which the Common Core is NOT controversial. In some of these places, that is because communications about the standards have been so direct and informative. But in other places, the controversy might be biding its time, waiting for a trigger – for example, the results of CCSS-aligned assessments that show a significant drop in proficiency rates – before it erupts.

Pre-Empting a Local Debate

At the national (and in some cases, state) level, one huge factor contributing to the current rhetoric around the Common Core is that, on the whole, advocates were often not prepared for the pushback that the standards received. As a result, they did not always respond quickly or appropriately to criticisms (or even general inquiries) about the CCSS, which created an empty space that opponents of the standards were able to fill with their voices – and occasionally, misinformation. So even if you are fortunate not to have experienced pushback yet in your community, you may still want to prepare for an upcoming debate. ...

By Tatyana Warrick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

What do students need to know and do to be able to thrive in the 21st century? This is the question that P21 has been working in concert with business, education leaders, and policymakers to answer over the last 10 years. Turns out, the skills that students need to succeed in college and workplace – a.k.a. to be college & career ready – are the same ones they need to be 21st century citizens.

Just as the world of work has changed, with the advent of technology and globalization, so has the nature of citizenship. The challenges of being a responsible, effective citizen are more diverse, nuanced and complex than they have been before. Because of this, our understanding of what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century needs to be expanded. Public schools have always played an important part of shaping tomorrow's citizens and safeguarding the ideals of our democracy. That responsibility is just as vital today. In fact, as we discuss standards, assessments and teaching practices, we can't forget that our educators also carry with them the responsibility to impart to students what it means to be a citizen of this nation, this world and online. ...

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