In 1969, as a young doctoral student, my thesis advisor suggested I take a seminar on the future of vocational education. Word was that the instructor presented a radical departure from tradition. Most of us were weaned on the post-war idea that voc-ed was for low performing students that would not be going to college. For girls this meant secretarial courses, for boys, shop classes. In urban communities, children of color mainly populated them.
Five years prior, as a first year teacher in NYC, I had been assigned to teach 9th grade general science to voc-ed students. The curriculum was organized around the mechanics of the car, boat, and airplane. By contrast, the 9th grade general science curriculum for college-track students focused on the properties of matter, physics, and chemistry. The overarching ideology at the time was "college was not for everyone."
But on the first day of my grad seminar, the professor offered the following introduction: "Vocational education should be about educating philosopher carpenters, and bricklayers." A low murmur went through the class. His lecture continued on, to how Plato's vision of philosopher kings should be the foundation for all students. Regardless of if a student went to college or not, he or she should have the skills for critical thinking, moral and ethical reasoning, and distinguishing fact from opinion.
At the foundation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the clarion call: Preparing America's Students for College and Career. Common Core standards define the knowledge and skills all students should have so that they graduate high school able to succeed in credit-bearing college courses and in workforce training programs. Basically, students' post-high school plans can differ, but doors shouldn't already be closed to them at graduation.
Nationally, the K-12 educational community is well on its way to implementing Common Core. Teacher prep has to meet this new reality. For all too long teacher preparation programs saw themselves as above the fray of K-12 education: "We conduct the research, we know what good instruction is, and we are not to blame for the achievement gap."
But starting now, new teachers will, by and large, teach to the Common Core standards, designing standards-based lessons, creating and interpreting standards-aligned assessments, and holding an expectation of college and career-readiness for each of their students. To adequately prepare their graduates, teacher prep programs will need to redesign curricula, coursework, and clinical experiences. And for that to happen, profs of teacher prep courses themselves need to deeply understand the standards.
This summer thousands of districts across the country will be running professional developments, working to build teacher capacity with the Common Core. I urge teacher prep faculty to join with their K-12 colleagues in this effort — not as higher education experts but as partners to inform practice.
Successful CCSS implementation will take a Herculean effort. If teacher prep ignores its role in that effort it will be more than a blow to its relevance, it will be an unforgivable missed opportunity to help all students become philosopher graduates.