How Educators in Rural New York got Creative with Common Core

Flickr/Rob Ireton
Flickr/Rob Ireton

Educators in most of the country are scrambling to figure out how to implement Common Core standards by their state’s deadline. The new standards require a big shift in teaching style and curriculum. As an early adopter, New York’s implementation has been closely watched, including as it relates to teaching materials.

Using existing resources for training needs can often be the cheaper, easier and less time-consuming choice. In preparation for Common Core, educators in an Upstate New York community had the option of using state developed training and curriculum. To put it simply, someone else did the work for the teachers. But once Letchworth Central School District educators realized the materials weren’t a good fit for the students, or the teachers, they ditched the bird in hand and went “rogue,” according to The Hechinger Report. The story describes the course of action by Lockwood Elementary School principal, Billy Bean:

When the curriculum that New York State chose finally did get delivered in 2013, the manual was hundreds of pages long, with a script that had minute-by-minute directions for how teachers should teach.

“I asked them just to follow the lesson, just to give it a try,” said Bean.

There were problems.

Instead of using out-of-the-box solutions, teachers developed their own curriculum as a team to teach the state’s standards, and that required innovative experimentation. One of those teachers was Tyler King.

The third-grade teachers in particular not only planned lessons together, they shared the load. The lessons were completely new, and it took time for the teachers to understand the new way they were being required to teach math. They planned to use technology, projecting parts of the lessons onto Smartboards, or large computer screens, which were time-consuming to create. So they divided up the lesson planning.

“What’s worked well for us is the whole teamwork thing, realizing that we can’t do it by ourselves and it’s ridiculous to think we can,” said King. “We show no shame in letting each other know when we fail.”

In addition, the school decided to group children by ability for 30 minutes daily in both math and English across the grade. That allowed some children to catch up, and a deeper dive for others even as they all learned the same basic material together. The change meant that for an hour each day, teachers left their classes and took a group of students that could number between 3 and 15, who were at a similar learning ability for that subject. As a result, the lessons, and the assessment of the children, had to be in lock-step. The strongest and weakest teachers worked as a team, and often met at the end of the day to discuss which lessons worked and which didn’t. They also kept track of the progress of individual students using “exit tickets” or short assessments on tablets at the end of each class.

The school also went rogue by not spending too much class time on testing.

“Last year we put the least amount of emphasis on the tests than we ever had,” said Billy Bean, Lockwood’s principal since 2001, who also taught at the school for nine years.

The elementary school raised its test scores after it adopted the different way of teaching, but the story notes some slight skepticism about those scores. What was not in doubt was educators' desire for change.

“We had tried everything,” said Bean. “Every time a new curriculum came out, we tried it. Nothing worked.”

 
Learn more about how educators worked together at The Hechinger Report.

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New York school beats the odds by "going rogue" on Common Core - The Hechinger Report