Forum Bemoans Gap Between Standards And Classroom
In order to prevent current efforts to raise student achievement from falling short, states need to act quickly to bridge the gap between academic standards and their use in classrooms. This was the main message conveyed during a two-day conference called "Bridging the Gap Between State Standards and Classroom Achievement," which took place on March 20-21. The conference brought together researchers, educators, policymakers, and business leaders to discuss this important issue.
Sandra Feldman, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, emphasized the challenge of implementing a comprehensive program for students, as opposed to just a testing program. She argued that a lack of curriculum and professional development tied to standards has contributed to a decline in teachers’ support for standards-based school improvement.
Researchers at the conference highlighted the key aspects of effective professional development for teachers. They emphasized that professional development should be focused on content, connected to addressing specific problems, sustained over time, situated in or near classrooms, and aligned with the curriculum being taught.
Robert Schwartz, the president of Achieve, a nonprofit group working to raise academic achievement, emphasized the importance of connecting professional development to academic content and curriculum. He argued that professional development should not be discussed separately from these aspects.
David K. Cohen, a professor of education and public policy, discussed the inadequate instructional system in schools. He conducted studies in California in the 1990s and found that teachers who received professional development focused on the math curriculum they taught were more likely to use effective teaching practices compared to those who did not have access to curriculum-focused learning. Cohen also noted that elementary schools where all teachers had such experiences had higher student achievement.
Uri Treisman, a math professor, suggested that effective professional development strongly grounded in the curriculum and strategies for raising student achievement contributed to improved math performance in his state.
William H. Schmidt, a professor of education, discussed the fragmented nature of the US curriculum compared to other countries. He argued that without addressing this issue, it would be challenging to change current professional development practices. Schmidt noted that the US curriculum tries to cover more topics in math and science at each grade level compared to other countries, thereby providing little direction for teachers.
To ensure that efforts to raise student achievement are successful, it is crucial for states to bridge the gap between academic standards and their implementation in classrooms. This can be achieved through comprehensive professional development that is tied to content, curriculum, and effective teaching practices. Additionally, addressing the fragmented nature of the curriculum will support the improvement of professional development practices and ultimately enhance student achievement.
Ms. Weingarten stated that the AFT affiliate is nearing completion of its English/language arts curriculum, but it is facing opposition from certain community district superintendents. These superintendents argue that it is not the union’s responsibility to create a curriculum. This presents a dilemma, as teachers do not have access to a curriculum from another source.
State Rep. Peter J. Larkin of Massachusetts, who co-chairs the joint committee on education, arts, and humanities, expressed concerns about relinquishing local school systems’ control over curriculum and professional development. He questioned how much control the state should have over local districts. He noted that superintendents in his state are requesting more flexibility to reduce professional development costs during challenging economic times.
Participants at the event highlighted a new funding option for professional development and teacher quality that arose from the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress allocated $2.85 billion for teacher-quality initiatives in fiscal year 2002, along with $10.35 billion in Title I grants to districts, some of which must be allocated for professional development.
Michael Cohen, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education during the Clinton administration, mentioned that while there is now a larger pool of funding available, districts often struggle to effectively utilize professional-development aid. Many options are open to districts, leading to a lack of focus and effectiveness.
Richard F. Elmore, a professor of educational leadership at Harvard University, proposed several steps that states could take to promote a more cohesive professional-development strategy aligned with state standards. These steps include requiring districts to reallocate their existing professional-development funds before receiving additional funding, providing subsidies only to districts with well-designed plans for significant improvement in teaching and learning, and establishing benchmarks and examples of high-quality curricula, professional development, and pedagogy.