Saturday, June 22, 2013

Common Core Key Note from Professional Educators of Tennessee

I had the privilege of giving the key note address at the annual LeaderU conference for the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) today on Common Core State Standards - below is the transcript!

Why are you here?  Why did you give up a gorgeous Tennessee Saturday to come to a Marriott for the day?

We are hoping that you came here to make a difference. You went into education to make a difference – to help all your students succeed and live their dreams.

When you started - you were going to be that teacher.   I travel a lot and I meet a lot of successful people and I when explain we what do at the National Math and Science Initiative – they all stop – get that look – stare into space – and tell me about that one teacher in their life.

Those incredibly smart, wildly successful people who create the most amazing things always talk about that one educator who challenged them, who changed the trajectory of their lives so that they are standing in front of us and we are in awe of their success.

It took that one teacher to make that happen – and we all wanted to be that person for every child.

But we are not yet reaching every child. The numbers are not good in this country – while there great careers in science technology engineering and math that could be the ticket out of poverty for many students – there are not enough people qualified for those jobs. 

Did you know that only 10,000 African Americans in the country took and passed an AP exam in math or science – in the country! And only around 50,000 Hispanic students. 

Here in Tennessee there were only 180 total passing scores in math and science for African Americans – and 416 for Hispanics.

And we have a bigger problem – because we have not been honest about our students. We keep telling students they are proficient but are they really proficient when nearly 50% of community college students and 20% of four-year students are placed in remediation? We have 70% of our students graduating but ACT says that only 36% are college ready. 

We are a country where everyone gets a trophy for just showing up – and we have been giving out trophies on state tests. In Texas where we are based– we don’t need your common core – we got STARR testing and 83% of our Texas students are proficient in Algebra – 83%!! 83% - - Top that Tennessee! 

And as long as colleges and careers align with our standard that getting 38% of the answers correct is good enough to be proficient in Algebra than our students should fair well in the modern world.  In Algebra, Texas is giving out trophies for just showing up to the test.

But there is hope – for the first time in a long time there is wide-scale systemic change coming to schools. There are some who disagree with it – but it is coming and the schools and teachers that prepare are going to make a huge positive difference for their students.

In the words of one of our teachers – it’s time to get your politics out of my classroom and let me teach. 

And this is about teaching content that matters – this is about teaching content that is worth teaching.

Done right – common core state standards eliminate teaching to the test and provides the guidelines to teach towards college and career readiness.

And PARCC defines college ready as being able to pass a college level, credit-bearing course in math or English.  Career ready is able to hold a Zone 3 job which means that you can make a living wage, earn benefits and be eligible for advancement.  THAT is a pretty high standard and that is exactly why we work with students – so they can be ready for college or to earn a living wage.   

Teaching content that matters to a much higher standard will make it worthwhile to come to work again - This about changing your teaching practice to create a depth of knowledge in your students so that they will be able to apply that knowledge throughout their lives. This is about creating life long learners who can apply knowledge – not about creating robots who regurgitate facts.

AND That’s why we got into education.  

One of those other teacher groups did a study recently and found the following
  • 75% of teachers approve of Common Core - teachers know what students need and even though this is a ton of work for teachers, they support the common core.

Make no mistake – this is a ton of work for educators But 75% of teachers surveyed approve of the common core – because in this case, less is really more.  Less standards means that teacher can go deeper into the content that matters.

And when students are actively engaging in rich content and generating new connections and ideas, they become more than just an average student. They become a high quality learner – and they will see themselves as high quality learners

They will be able to answer questions with confidence, because they know that they know the material. We will enable students to actually apply what they have mastered in the classroom, giving you real feedback on the merits of the standards.

Common Core is opening the door for more effective professional development. It offers you the chance to engage with your students using high quality material – not just working through a checklist of 20 standards you need to cover that day.

But to make that change a reality, educators must learn how to become flexible and adaptable – not really our strong suite – but everywhere I go I see teachers really diving into this with energy and drive -

Educators understand the rigor that comes with the common core state standards and need the right teacher training to successfully implement common core.

Implementing Common Core State Standards is a huge challenge, but teachers who are ready  - will see incredible success for their students. Having a Common Core aligned curriculum is the first step.

The next big step is having great assessments that can truly determine understanding in students is absolutely critical.  And educators have to understand those assessments.  We work with PARCC a lot right now through our project to create Educator Leader Cadres – and all of that content is on our website open to all educators.  And this is not easy and probably the biggest concern -

  • 74% of teachers are very worried or fairly worried that the assessments will begin before they have been able to fully align their instructional practice
  • However - 57% say their districts are prepared - which at this point in the process really ain’t too shabby!

Justifiable concern going into a major change – but I have to tell you that Tennessee leading the charge.

We worked with over 380 higher education staff right here in Tennessee just a few months ago – because they wanted to get their programs ready for common core – and what we saw was pretty incredible.

The higher ed staff came away from that training with the following  -
·       They understand that instruction had to change on campus – that they have to provide effective models of teaching and get away from the sage on the stage process
·       They have to have more communication has to take place between colleges of arts and sciences and colleges of education
·       Prospective teachers need deeper content knowledge
·       They need to share more with other universities and with K12
o   Redesign core course work for elementary ed majors
o   More PD for higher ed staff on effective methods of instruction (we should watch graduation rates)
o   They need to add key courses - modifying others
o   They need to work collaboratively across disciplines and colleges
o   They need to incorporate the Ayers Institute for Teaching videos into instruction
o   They will use the National Math and Science open  model lessons for common core with their students

Isn’t that a victory for common core already?!?  Your higher education teams are responding and upgrading their programs so that your teachers better meet the needs of your students.

I don’t care if you call it common core or college and career or the New Tennessee State Standards – this is about getting better and raising the bar for students and it is already happening here in Tennessee. 

Not surprising – the higher ed folks told us that they are concerned that prospective teachers lack the critical thinking skills necessary to become great teachers – the very problem that we need to solve is hurting our ability to solve it.

But it doesn’t stop there – our team spent time right down the road at the Williamson Tennessee County school district. Their curriculum teams had updated their curriculum for common core state standards but wanted to discuss implementation – they wanted to work on THE most critical element of common core –


Note to the common core haters – how can you call a curriculum developed in Williamson county a national curriculum?

Our team started by discussing the fact that focus, coherence and rigor are really at the heart of all the common core state standards – not just the math. 

Common core is a laser focus on important content that is connected and builds in cognitive and instructional rigor across grade levels.


And this lead to one activity that we do with all our trainings – we ask them to talk about a very difficult question – WHAT IS MEANT BY RIGOR. Do you have an answer for that? Do you know what rigor will look like in your classrooms next year?

We then looked at literacy across the entire curriculum. We looked at how mathematics standards need to be reinforced and referenced in science and even social studies through statistics and even art and music. 

We talked about the wording from the standards of mathematical practice and got their teams thinking about this as the “standards of practice or habits of the mind” – for all disciplines.

Our team has never been more energized after working with this district.  They came back with the widest eyes – this is what can happen – and they told us their energy was half that of the district.  This can create transformative change for school districts – and it has nothing to do with who created what –


At the end of the training we had each of them write up 3 things they would now be able help their teachers do in the classroom because of the training.

NOTE THE PREVAILING THEME SO FAR – leaving training with specific actions that will improve your teaching practice.

That is my challenge to you today – you have some great sessions here. KEEP A LIST OF THE ACTIONS YOU WILL TAKE TO IMPROVE STUDENT OUTCOMES. Be an active participant – ask questions – don’t that passive schlump that is just getting that check in the box for CEU’s.  Your time is to valuable to sit there and get nothing out of it.

A great leader that told me if you are not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.  Loved that line because it put the onus of fun on you. If you are not having fun learning today – you are doing it wrong. And who really wants to do something wrong for an entire day.

I was on a panel this week in Austin Texas at a STEM conference – the moderator decided to flip the panel –before the panelists talked they asked the audience what questions they had and why had they decided to attend the session.  Sadly my fellow panelists stuck with their remarks but I did change my to answer the questions –

One of the questions was “what can we do to get businesses to know that things are getting better and that we are getting things done in the classroom?” – I paused a little on that one – but not long because they understand data.

With all the gloom and doom statistics in education did you miss the fact that since 2000 college enrollment is up 37% - and it is up 87% for Hispanics and 76% for African American Students – I didn’t hear much about that but our business partners did and got a little smile on their faces.

The economy is improving – because education is improving.  You drive the economy more than any other factor because if we don’t have the best workforce our economy stagnates.  If adults don’t understand that a 1% mortgage rate when interest rates are 6% is not a good thing because you are creating negative equity at a time when housing prices decline – we get a mortgage crisis.

Educators drive the economy. You are making progress in Tennessee and you are leading the way in Common Core implementation.  It is time to ignore the politics and get started on really making a difference in America’s economy.

One of those great people that I talked about at the beginning told us -
When a teacher believes in you – it is impossible not to believe in yourself.

Thank you all – for believing is so many Tennessee students