"Teacher Voices" And Common Core | Eastern North Carolina Now | In "Maintaining rigor and listening to teachers in the debate over academic standards," Keith Poston of the Public School Forum argues against changing the Common Core math and English standards, since he believes members of the state's Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC) are working to...

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    Publisher's note: This post, by Bob Luebke, was originally published in the Education section(s) of Civitas's online edition.

    In "Maintaining rigor and listening to teachers in the debate over academic standards," Keith Poston of the Public School Forum argues against changing the Common Core math and English standards, since he believes members of the state's Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC) are working to weaken the standards. In the second half of his article, Poston talks about the supposed strong support teachers have for the Common Core Standards and that teacher voices need to be a significant part of the public discussion over the standards. Results of an "Educator Survey" conducted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction have helped to form Poston's views. The survey asked respondents whether specific Common Core math or English Language Arts standards were acceptable or should be revised.

    Poston writes:

    Out of more than 850 standards covered by the survey, over 450 standards (more than half) were endorsed by at least 90 percent of responding educators, meaning fewer than 10 percent of respondents felt revisions were needed. Approximately 775 standards (around 87.5 percent) were endorsed by at least 80 percent of responding educators, meaning fewer than 20 percent felt revisions were needed. There was not a single standard for which a majority of responding educators felt revisions were needed. . . .

    Rather than recognizing the strong support for the standards reflected in the survey results, some commissioners speaking at the January meeting attempted to dismiss the survey because they felt there were too few responses. The survey covered every K-8 grade in mathematics and ELA, as well as Math I, Math II, Math III, Grade 9-10 ELA, and Grade 11-12 ELA. Most individual grade levels in each subject received several hundred responses. [1]

    Two issues emerge from these paragraphs. First, I also agree that teachers should have a strong voice in the public discussion over Common Core Standards. In fact, up to this point, I believe they have been largely shut out of that discussion, but that's another story. In my view, in their eagerness to assert their position, Poston and other Common Core advocates have been quick to jump on the results of the Educator Surveys. A closer look reveals the surveys have numerous flaws.

    We are told the survey results represent the views of teachers. But do they? According to the DPI contact who administered the survey:

    ...the surveys were made available to educators on the NCDPI web site and through communications sent from NCDPI through teacher listservs, superintendent and principal messages, RESA presentations, UNC System listerve, and curriculum and instruction leader meetings. The survey was distributed by DPI. The surveys were launched October 20, 2014 and ended December 31, 2014. [2]

    Who was supposed to complete the survey? Again, according to DPI:

    The survey was open to any educator who wished to participate, regardless of their current position. We did not require the survey respondent to indicate that they had specific knowledge of the standards on which they commented. [3]

    So it appears anyone could complete an "Educator Survey." If you're an educator, you could be a teacher, but you could also be an administrator, school nurse, library assistant, custodian, school secretary or just about anyone who works in a school. Anyone could respond to the questions about Common Core Standards. You needn't possess any special knowledge or expertise of the standards to comment on them. It appears you could submit your comments on standards for any grade. For example, if you were a third-grade teacher, you could complete the survey for high school math. Likewise, a school nurse might do the same. It also appears you could submit more than one survey. In fact, as many as you wish.

    Why is this important? All these shortcomings make it difficult to say the surveys reflect the views of teachers. It may reflect the view of some teachers. However, there is no definitive way to know. The survey instrument pools the views of many educators and lacks the ability to separate out the views of teachers.

    Despite the obvious limitations, Poston remains undeterred. He writes that it would be "unfortunate" if the commission failed to give serious weight to "educators who offer the most credible voices on the acceptability of the standards." Poston takes issue with some members of the Academic Standards Review Commission who criticized the survey for the number of responses.

    DPI officials said they received 8,703 completed surveys. As previously mentioned, however, there is no way of knowing what represents teacher opinion or merely the opinion of educators. A quick review of the surveys shows approximately 360 people responded to each of the individual standards — not a very large number. [4]

    Of course the question becomes: to what universe do the respondents belong, teacher or public school employees? Keith Poston says these are teacher responses — though there's no way to discern how many — but let's assume they all are. If all the surveys are completed by teachers, they represent approximately 9 percent of all teachers. If the results merely represent the views of "educators' — and the term educator is synonymous with public school employee — the sample responses represent 4.9 percent of all employees. [5]

    The other problem in this scenario is that even if the results represented exclusively teacher views, no steps have been taken to ensure the population is representative of all teachers. As such, the surveys are merely representatives of those individuals who chose to respond. The results may be interesting, but the results cannot be said to have been derived scientifically. Worse yet, that fact does not seem to have been reported.

    So how do teachers feel about Common Core Standards? Obviously, teacher surveys on the subject would be helpful. That's exactly what the Civitas Institute did in 2013. We developed a brief questionnaire asking teachers to respond to various questions about Common Core. The survey — admittedly unscientific — was distributed via Survey Monkey. It was sent to teacher email addresses obtained from the North Carolina Department of Public instruction. The survey generated 1,700 responses from 71 different LEAs. What did we find? Briefly the findings are instructive. (If you'd like to learn more about the results, click here):

    Teachers are conflicted about Common Core. Many may like the standards, but teachers have reservations about individual standards and how the standards are being implemented.

  • 62 percent of teacher respondents favored proposals to slow down or halt the implementation of Common Core Standards; 38 percent oppose proposals to do so.
  • 55 percent of respondents rated their schools' preparation for Common Core Standards as "average, weak, or poor."
  • 65 percent of respondents approve of the decision to implement Common Core Standards.
  • Less than half of all respondents expressed confidence that Common Core Standards would help to improve student achievement.

    Civitas published the responses to the Common Core questions. However we also published all the comments of individual teachers. (See collected responses here). Teachers both praised and criticized the standards. Here are a few teacher comments.

    Teachers Praise Common Core:

    "Common Core is great, but it's been rolled out poorly in our district."

    "I believe NC needs to 'catch up' with the rest of the nation. This year has been tough with higher expectations, but in a few years it will balance out."

    "I think the principle behind Common Core is great. I just don't think everything should be tied to testing. Our students are tested to death."

    Teachers Criticize Common Core:

    "Common Core seems to be just another 'Flavor of the Month' and within five years it will be replaced."

    "[Common Core] teaches to the middle and puts low expectations on all students."

    "... we were not given proper materials to implement these standards in our classrooms. We have been flying the airplane while building it.!"

    Teachers on Resources for Common Core:

    "We do not have the money to change all the materials and resources to align with Common Core."

    "The lack of materials has placed an almost impossible burden on teachers."

    "What textbooks?!"

    On Teacher Input for Implementing Common Core:

    "I was not aware teachers had any say in this ... As far as I know the only ones making any decisions are the clueless politicians in Raleigh who have no idea what actually goes on in schools."

    "We had NO input [we were] told this is what we are doing."

    "Teachers have been involved?"

    As you can see, the results reflect a range of views on Common Core. They also offer a perspective far different from that reported in the results of the educator surveys."

    Everyone agrees North Carolina public schools should have high academic standards. To that end, the General Assembly charged the Academic Standards Review Commission with reviewing the Common Core math and English Language Arts standards and ensuring that North Carolina Standards "increase academic achievement, meet and reflect North Carolina priorities, are age and developmentally appropriate, are understandable to parents and teachers" and "among the highest standards in the nation." [6]

    These are ambitious but important tasks, necessitated by unending controversy and a widely shared belief that Common Core did an end run around the democratic process. In 2010, when the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core Standards there was no discussion of the merit or impact of the standards. Questions continue to arise regarding the standards themselves and the lack of research that supports them. Moreover, many believe Common Core transfers the locus of power over education from the states to Washington and unelected bureaucrats.

    The ASRC was formed to address the ongoing controversy and provide a roadmap for the way forward. Claims that the ASRC is "ignoring the teacher's voice" and "setting the stage for a watering down of North Carolina's academic standards" have no basis in fact and are unequivocally false. They also ignore ASRC's responsibility to "propose modifications" to ensure the standards meet the criteria established in SL 2014-78.

    A discussion of differing honest opinions enriches the policy process, something our Common Core debate badly needs. Narratives based on baseless accusation and misunderstanding of the policy process generate more heat than light. I hope we can commit ourselves to the former. The stakes are too high for anything less than effective, fair dialogue.

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