Common Core challenges teachers — old and new

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Common Core standards are not only changing education for K-12 teachers, but for university students who want to become educators.
The new standards – coupled with a tougher entrance exam – are making it harder for college students to get into teacher training programs. Meanwhile, current teachers have to adjust their lessons to Common Core standards, which were adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010.
“This has been our concern for a while — how prepared are our schools, districts and teachers to align with the Common Core?” said Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.
For college students aspiring to be teachers, one of the most difficult parts of the process might be just getting into a program.

In 2013, the Michigan Department of Education created a new entrance exam that students are required to pass before being accepted into a teaching program. The exam is designed to be more difficult, testing students on Common Core standards, which weren’t yet implemented when college students were in high school.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 69 percent of prospective teaching students fail the new exam. The exam’s predecessor had a pass rate of 89 percent.
“That doesn’t seem to make any sense, to me,” Cook said.
Once students are accepted to teaching programs, Common Core standards are a large part of the curriculum.
Training for teachers in the field, however, varies. Cook said that while many school districts have embraced the Common Core, some school districts don’t have the time or resources to provide extensive training to their teachers.
“You’ve got to remember, we are employees of the district administration,” he said. “Teachers cannot just band together and say, ‘OK, here’s how we’re going to do it.’ There has to be direction from the board, the administration.”
Teachers need to know more than how the standards will change what’s in their lesson plans. They may need to change how they teach some subjects and also how to evaluate what their students learn.
“You’re not just saying, ‘Here are the new standards. Go get ‘em,’” Cook said. “There’s a great deal of planning and preparation that goes into each school year, each grade.”
Grand Rapids Public Schools communications director John Helmholdt said teacher preparation for the Common Core — especially when it comes to new teachers — is important. In Grand Rapids, new teachers are given an introduction to the district in a “GRPS 101” training, and are assigned a veteran teacher as a mentor to learn about how the district implements education standards and how to incorporate them into lesson plans.
In some of these cases, however, preparation can fall to individual teachers.
“It’s a challenge because they’re there all day working with children,” said Joe Lubig, associate dean for teacher education at Northern Michigan University. “So it’s a challenge to make sure they carve out time.”
Some universities have stepped up to help. Northern Michigan offers a summer program, Action in Education, to provide professional development for teachers and Michigan State University recently released a Web-based program to help teachers supplement their textbooks to teach Common Core standards.
“Everyone wants to make sure it benefits the students the most, that they have the most current information,” Lubig said. “It’s like any other profession, you know, you want your folks to be up to speed, right?”
Tim Brannan, a professor in Central Michigan University’s Department of Teacher Education and Professional Development, said there’s always something new for teachers to learn to keep up to date.
“The nice thing about education is there’s always that requirement for continuing education,” he said.

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