Compiled by Dina Martin, Mike Myslinski and Frank Wells
Many districts base improvement on QEIA research
It’s about the language, not usually the money. That’s the consensus of leaders and staff around the state who have negotiated consultation processes and agreements, or memorandums of understanding (MOUs), for Common Core State Standards (CCSS) implementation. The better MOUs lay out a well-defined process to deal with issues that may arise and include teachers from the beginning.
Some issues are not mandatorily negotiable. “If it’s good for kids and improves learning, good school districts are talking about those issues at the bargaining table anyway,” says CTA President Dean E. Vogel.
To be fair, there are “bad actors” and districts that are not collaborating and not including teachers when planning and implementing the Common Core State Standards.
Here, though, are three that are doing it right.
In October the Lennox Teachers Association and the Lennox School District agreed to a memorandum of understanding creating a Common Core State Standards Committee to oversee Common Core implementation and determine the expenditure of CCSS funds available to the district in the 2013-14 state budget. The MOU ensures that the nine-member committee has a majority of five LTA members, with the LTA president and the district’s director of instructional services serving as co-chairs.
“After intense organizing by our members around the concept of shared decision making, the district was pretty cooperative in getting this going,” says LTA President Brian Guerrero. “We bargained hard on some minor changes to our initial proposal, but they ultimately embraced a committee structure that shares power in a tangible way.” Guerrero sees the agreement as a chance for teacher-led curriculum development and significant change from the top-down, prescriptive approach to curriculum creation that had often overwhelmed teachers in a school district struggling to meet state standards without the modern textbooks necessary to do so. To help with the process, LTA has also looked to factors leading to success at the district’s four QEIA schools, including teacher-driven professional development, frequent teacher collaboration, smaller class sizes, and principals who are also curricular leaders.
LTA has actively engaged its membership throughout this process, conducting site visits, small group meetings, and one-on-ones to gather opinions and concerns about Common Core, bridging materials, staff development, and the technology needed to successfully implement the new standards. While some feel the process is slow, LTA’s early efforts have put its members and the school district ahead of many others when it comes to successful CCSS implementation. LTA is using the CCSS implementation process as a model for Lennox’s Local Control and Accountability Plan development to allocate new state funding.
How did the Madera Unified Teachers Association establish a Common Core Steering Committee in their district?
“It wasn’t easy,” says MUTA President David Holder. “We’ve been pushing since November. It took perseverance to get it done.”
Fresh from coming off of contentious bargaining that brought the chapter to the brink of a strike, Holder and MUTA First Vice President Amanda Wade began pushing for more involvement in Common Core implementation in their district. They talked to administrators and went regularly to board meetings to let them know they weren’t going to back away from that mission.
The result is a memorandum of understanding between the chapter and the Madera Unified School District that was signed in early April. The MOU establishes a committee of 10 elementary and 10 secondary teachers who will work with a team of administrators in identifying priorities, making recommendations regarding expenditures, and communicating with the classroom teacher.
“That’s what it gets back to, the classroom teacher,” Holder says. “We’re not going to sit on the sidelines and have district administrators tell teachers how to do their jobs. The teachers will tell the administrators what they need to do their job.”
For MUTA, the language that ensures this principle reads: “A full partnership means that the parties will take joint responsibility and accountability to create a collaborative process that is driven from the school level upward, engaging site administrators and MUTA members with the opportunity to fully own the implementation of Common Core.”
Regarding decision making: “All decisions and directives made by the CCSC (Common Core Steering Committee) shall be a result of engaging in collaborative discussions.”
The committee will begin its collaborative meetings this month.
The United Teachers of Richmond MOU reached in November is teacher-driven and pays teachers stipends for their involvement, while creating a school site structure that ensures wide empowerment of members in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. “It’s seen as a model because the teachers’ vision and design for Common Core implementation and transition was respected,” says UTR President Diane Brown. “We can create a vision that comes directly from teachers now. It’s all transparent. All responsibilities are outlined clearly.”
Brown says the early UTR agreement model influenced many Bay Area CTA chapters on CCSS — including those in Pittsburg, Oakland, Alameda, Brentwood and San Leandro. Read the agreement at www.unitedteachersofrichmond.com. Click on the “Common Core” tab.
The thing Richmond does differently is utilize NEA’s Keys to Excellence for Your School (KEYS) continuous school improvement program. KEYS is a researched-based, field-tested, data-driven approach that starts with a survey that reveals the strengths and opportunities for improvement in a participating school. Data from the survey indicate where a school stands on some 42 indicators that research has shown correlate with a high-performing school.
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