A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by acts of corruption and fraud. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, and re-assigned. The terms "rubber room" and "ATR" mean that you or any person has been targeted for removal from your job. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
Charlotte Danielson, a former teacher and school administrator
with degrees from Cornell and Oxford Universities, is one of the most
recognized authorities on teaching practice in the United States. A popular
speaker and trainer, she is best known as the creator of the "Framework
for Teaching," a 115-page set of components for effective pedagogy that is
used in many states and districts to inform teacher evaluation and professional
recently released a new edition of her Framework for 2013, with updates
designed to reflect the Common Core State Standards.
In a recent interview, we talked to her about the common standards
and how they might change teachers' work.
What are the central implications of the common standards in terms
of instructional practice, or the way teachers teach?
good question, because we tend to think about the common core in terms of what
students learn—for example, whether they demonstrate understanding of a concept
or strong argumentation skills, being able to establish a point and defend it logically.
Those are, of course, curriculum and ultimately assessment issues. But they
also have implications for instruction—that is, how do you teach students the
skills of argumentation? How do you teach in a way that advances conceptual
understanding rather than superficial knowledge? These types of learning
outcomes require different kinds of instructional practices—ones that many
teachers are not adequately prepared to use.
the common core rests on a view of teaching as complex decision making, as
opposed to something more routine or drill-based. That's a view I've always
taken as well. It requires instructional strategies on teachers' parts that
enable students to explore concepts and discuss them with each other, to
question and respectfully challenge classmates’ assertions. So I see the common
core as a fertile and rich opportunity for really important professional
learning by teachers, because—I don't know now how to say this nicely—well, not
all teachers have been prepared to teach in this way. I see that as one of the
enormous challenges facing the common core rollout.
When you walk into a classroom, will good teaching look different
under the common core?
that depends on how teachers are teaching now. But when I walk into a
classroom, of course I care about what the teacher is doing, but in some ways I
care even more about what the students are doing. What's the nature of the
task? Are students being invited, or even required, to think? Naturally, that
has implications for what the teacher is doing and what the teacher hasalreadydone. That is, has the
teacher designed learning experiences for kids that engage them in thinking or
formulating and testing hypothesizes or challenging one another respectfully or
developing an understanding of a concept? You really only know what a teacher
is doing when you look at what the students are doing. I also listen carefully
to how teachers question students—if they ask kids to explain their thinking,
for instance. That's very different from just saying that’s the right or wrong
answer. It's a very different mindset about wanting to understand the students'
thinking and their degree and level of understanding.
How much of your framework has changed as a result of the common
What I did was make explicit some things that were always there. The Framework
for Teaching has always been grounded in the same fundamental assumptions as
the common standards—for example, the importance of student conceptual
understanding and of student intellectual engagement. I just called those
things out. But it's important to note that the common standards so far only
apply to two subject areas, literacy and mathematics, whereas my framework is
generic—I intend it to apply to all settings. So in terms of the actual rubrics
and the critical attributes of the different levels of performance, I could
only incorporate those aspects of the common standards that in fact apply
everywhere—for example, those things we’ve been talking about like argumentation
and conceptual understanding. For things that are more subject-specific, such
as the close reading of texts and the balance of fiction and nonfiction, I
included those only in the examples for particular critical attributions.
The common-core documentation says that the standards are designed
to give teachers flexibility. Does that make it more difficult for schools to
evaluate teachers—insofar as there is no one right or prescribed way to do
that the common standards are silent on the subject of how students should
learn the content of the standards—there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t
think that necessarily makes it "more difficult" for administrators
to evaluate teachers' practice. That is, if I'm going into a classroom and looking
for how well a teacher is implementing the common core, I'm going to look for
those common themes that run through the common core, and if it's literacy or
math, look for specific things. Again, I tend to look at what the students are
doing. So, for example, do you see evidence of the teacher developing the
skills that would encourage good argumentation—not only by asking good
questions themselves but by encouraging the students to ask good questions and
respectfully challenge one another's point of view? That kind of holistic
inquiry has always been a part of my Framework.
OK, so, imagine you are a school leader. How much room would you
give teachers to experiment as they are implementing the common core?
personally would allow them to experiment quite a bit, because, again, the
common standards only describe what students will learn. There are many ways to
achieve those goals. In addition, this is all very new. As I said a minute ago,
this is a rich opportunity for good professional learning—and for teachers to
work together and maybe watch videos of one other teaching, then pause the
video and talk about how or why particular decisions were made. I think
implementation of this will be more productive if it’s done through groups of
teachers working together or with a principal or instructional coach or team
leader—as opposed to having a principal say, “This is the way it has to be.” It
seems to me that, given the opportunity for deep professional learning work,
teachers will have the expertise in this at least as much as principals or
other school leaders. I mean, they’re the ones who are going to be able to say,
“This is what common core looks like in algebra,” or “This is what it looks
like in 3rd grade reading class.”
we've discovered in our work that principals don't always recognize real
student engagement. If the students are compliant and doing what the teacher
says, if they're on task and busy, principals will often call it
"engaged." But the students might not be doing any thinking at all.
They might just be filling in some blanks on a worksheet. So I think this shift
is going to challenge a lot of people to think deeply and differently. That’s
my hope. And from a school leadership perspective, this means you don't want to
be ramming things down peoples' throats—I think that's at odds with the spirit
of what you're trying to do with the common core.
There's a lot of talk about teachers being able to share and to
make greater use of supplemental curriculum materials like primary sources. Do
you have any recommendation for teachers on evaluating the quality or relevance
of such resources?
use of primary sources in lessons—diaries, ships' logs, letters—can be
wonderful and extremely enriching. And when teachers use these kinds of things,
they can engage students in the kinds of learning that absolutely reflect the
common core—that require analysis and conjecture and move away from rote
learning. And I think that as more materials become available online, and as
teachers begin to delve into the standards and understand what kinds of skills
they are trying to develop in students, this can be a very rich experience for
teachers themselves. They will be able to get involved in conversations with
other educators and gain expertise as to the kinds of resources they need or
want. I also assume that districts and curriculum directors will also help
teachers evaluate lesson materials, in terms of their applicability to
particular standards. At least in the early going, teachers may just need to
trust their school or district leaders’ judgment on the value of particular
What’s your advice for developing formative or benchmark
assessments based on the common standards, given that the official
common-core-aligned assessments are still under development?
it's the same issue as with teaching in general. You need to have a deep
understanding of what the standards are about. Let's say you teach 4th grade
mathematics. From reading the standards, you can see that there's a premium on
mathematical reasoning, let's say. So you would want to be both teaching and
formatively assessing kids on that. For example, do the students understand the
processes they are using? Can they apply them in varied situations?
have to define what we mean by formative assessment—some people use that term
to mean interim summative assessments, these benchmarking exams that companies
sell. That’s not my definition of formative assessment. I consider formative
assessment to be a part of teaching, something that is assimilated into lesson
plans and instructional decision making. It’s ongoing monitoring done by the
teacher, not just of the group as a whole but of individuals as well. In my
view, it's not mini-summative assessments—it's not something you administer, if
you will, in January. It’s an integral part of instruction. Formative
assessment is not something you buy off the shelf. It's a skill you learn how
But how do you know if you’re doing it well?
way you know if you're doing teaching well. To me this is another place where
there’s an opportunity for teachers to work together and determine what it
looks like on the ground when students are reaching the kinds of higher-level
learning objectives the common core describes. It has to be part of teaching—an
integral part of conversations teachers need to be having about whether they
are implementing the standards with fidelity. What kind of responses are we
getting from our students? What kind of evidence do we have that theyunderstandwhat they
are learning? I think figuring out how to measure these expectations is very
much on-the-ground work.
How will the common core affect teachers who have students with a
wide range of skill levels or high needs?
hasn't changed. That is the perennial instructional challenge—kids come into
your classroom with a huge range of backgrounds and skills. I fear that the
common core papers over that problem.
In what way?
mathematics, for example, you're expected to focus on a few key concepts for
3rd graders. But suppose you've got some students who never mastered the 1st
grade skills. The standards documentation, as far as I can see, is silent on
how a teacher handles that situation.
So what’s your advice for a teacher in that position?
outsider, it's hard to be specific, but I think one has to understand the
developmental learning sequence of particular concepts and teach them in a way
that's compatible with the central themes of the common core. That is, the
specific topics to me are less important than the big ideas. So if I'm teaching
for conceptual understanding, which is a big idea in the common core, I'm going
to go for conceptual understanding while maybe modulating the specific skills
I'm teaching. Say I'm a 4th grade teacher and prime numbers is a 4th grade
skill, but I've got some 4th graders who don't understand place value. In that
case, my own personal inclination would be to ensure that my students develop
conceptual understanding of place value at that point—because that’s what they
need. So the big idea of conceptual understanding is still consistent. But the
actual topic? I don't see how you can responsibly say anything other than that
you have to be flexible and teach students what they have the background to
learn at that point. Otherwise, you're setting them up for failure.
Are there things about the common core that you don’t like?
really, not conceptually. But I do worry somewhat about the assessments—I'm
concerned that we may be headed for a train wreck there. The test items I've
seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take
a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I'm not sure that I
would pass it—and I've got a bunch of degrees. So I do worry that in some schools
we’ll have 80 percent or some large number of students failing. That's what I
mean by train wreck. But who knows? We just don’t know enough about the
assessments right now. But when I have shown some of those released items to
groups of educators—to teachers and administrators—the room just goes very
quiet. So I can imagine a hostile response on the part of some educators and
communities. But I'd like to be wrong about that.
think the vision of the common core, in terms of the conceptual framework, is
terrific. For some educators, it represents a real change in mindset. It's
about getting away from this scripted or pre-digested textbook-based
instruction and really asking questions and encouraging deep understanding. I
love all that tremendously. I mean, when you ask a kid who doesn't like school,
"Why not?," you never hear him say, "because it's too
hard." Kids say, "It's boring." And you know what? They have a
point. A lot of it is. There are a lot of boring lessons out there—and I see
the common core as a way of breaking out of that, because it does put a real
premium on students' deeper learning and understanding and engagement, real
Do you have specific advice for teachers who are making the
transition to the common standards right now?
my advice to teachers would be to take a deep breath and look at ways this
might be compatible with what they're already doing and what they want to do in
their classrooms. Good teaching has always been what the common core is asking:
inviting students to think and to understand complex concepts. The standards
are going to invite teachers to think deeply about what the students are
learning, and about whether they are really teaching for understanding, and how
they can do that better—because that's where the real power in learning is.
This is a big initiative, and it is going to require a major reorientation in
how many people think about instruction and student learning. There's no doubt
about that. I don't think we should pretend otherwise. On the other hand, it’s
always been the vision of some people, including me, that that’s how we ought
to be teaching—for deep engagement. And by engagement I mean intellectual
engagement, resulting in the understanding of complex concepts.