Common Core Causes Ohio's Teacher Training Programs to Make A Shift

BGSU's education building. Photo courtesy of Amy Hansen.
BGSU's education building. Photo courtesy of Amy Hansen.
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At Bowling Green State University in western Ohio, an entire wall of Gabe Matney’s classroom is a floor-to-ceiling display of the eight math common core practice standards. Not to be confused with content standards, of which there are multitudes for each grade. The practice standards convey the philosophy of the Common Core – analysis, meaning and understanding, not just memorization. Take this simple calculation: four multiplied by five.

"Four times five actually has a very specific meaning in mathematics, and that's 4 groups of 5," explained Bowling Green math education professor Gabe Matney. "But we have a whole generation of people, many of which have no idea that there actually is a meaning to that or why we believe it should be 20. They were just rotely told this is the case, they memorized it, and they moved on."

Matney said teaching to the Common Core standards means teachers need to know the meaning behind simple calculations and that’s changing the way teachers are taught.

“We’ve definitely rearranged our curriculum here at Bowling Green State," he said.

Matney said he has welcomed the adding Common Core principles to teacher prep curriculum and says that for him, it’s not much of a shift.

That’s not to say there haven't been some bumps along the way. Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Mary Murray, said some professors resisted the changes, at first.

"I think for the most part faculty are used to teaching a particular discipline and the thought of that crossover was a little uncomfortable, the thought of the accountability with the standards was uncomfortable," she said. "But with any change, the more that you talk about it, the more you go through it, the better that it is. now its fairly well integrated.”

Of Ohio’s thirteen public universities that offer teacher prep programs, Bowling Green’s houses the largest number of undergraduates, but others also have large programs: Kent State, Ohio University and Ohio State among them. All say they have made curriculum changes to incorporate the Common Core.

But is there a mechanism to ensure that? Theoretically, yes.

"To get the Ohio license, you have to have been prepared in a program that is aligned to the Ohio Learning Standards," said Rebecca Watts, a vice chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, the group which approves all teacher prep programs in Ohio. "We have to make sure that all of the programs the chancellor approves align to all of the licensure requirements.

But have the schools of education done that when it comes to the new Common Core? State education officials say it’s a complex question. A hint at the answer though comes in page 56 of an appendix to Ohio’s Education Preparation Program report issued last spring.

It says, “Program and curricular changes are well under way in some Ohio educator preparation programs….however, more attention is required for this aspect of educator preparation in many programs throughout the state.”

Kate Walsh puts the issue more bluntly. She is the executive director of the National Council on Teacher Quality - an educational think tank.

She believes higher education across the country is two or three years behind in embracing the Common Core.

“It will take state regulators and board members and legislators saying to them ‘this is your job, this is important, and you need to prepare your teachers to be able to do it,'" said Walsh.

An analysis six months ago by Education Week magazine concluded that the performance of schools of education incorporating the Common Core is “inconsistent” and often moving slowly.

Ed Week also said that may not be a bad thing – taking a gradual approach – given that some professors are still sorting out what Common Core means.

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