Preparing New Teachers for the Common Core: The Remarkable Kentucky Story

As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their kindred iterations continue to gain traction in schools around the country, staff development efforts have been bringing in-service educators up to speed, and colleges of education have been adjusting their curricula to ensure that the field’s newest professionals are also ready for the new standards. Nowhere has this shift seen greater success than in Kentucky, which was the first state to adopt and implement CCSS. A recent AACTE webinar sponsored by the Learning First Alliance’s “Get It Right” campaign highlighted the remarkable progress made by institutions in the state.

The webinar, “Is Common Core Impossible?” was presented October 26 by Manish Sharma and Ann Larson from the University of Louisville along with Dorie Combs and Ginni Fair from Eastern Kentucky University, and moderated by AACTE Senior Director Linda McKee. Although educators in other states might not enjoy the broad coalition that supports Kentucky’s efforts, they still have much to gain from adapting aspects of the model in their own institutions and with their own partners—and indeed, dozens of teacher educators from outside Kentucky tuned in for this free online event.

Following the passage of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in 2009 in Senate Bill 1, a highly coordinated effort unfolded to enact needed changes across the state’s PK-12 districts, postsecondary institutions, and related policies and agencies. For teacher educators to build momentum and share progress with peers, a state AACTE chapter is a good place to start, and the Kentucky Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (KACTE), which Sharma currently leads, played a key role in the reforms. KACTE helped its member institutions inform and engage faculty, align their course content, collaborate with local districts, and support each other all along the way.

In partnership with the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education, the Education Professional Standards Board, the Kentucky Center for Mathematics, and others, KACTE helped develop regional workshops and online training to prepare faculty for this work, first in math and literacy and later adding content from the Next Generation Science Standards. The way changes were implemented at each campus differed according to local needs, but ultimately, all preparation programs had to find ways to teach their candidates how to align their instruction and assessment with specific content standards and to differentiate their teaching based on individual student needs.

One exciting outcome of this process was the engagement of faculty across each campus—not just in the teacher preparation programs—in the implementation effort. Recognizing that candidates receive much of their content preparation elsewhere in the institution, teacher educators engaged arts and sciences faculty in discipline-based professional learning communities around the standards. Combs noted that once faculty really looked at the Common Core’s expectations, such as around the deep reading skills that incoming students needed to have for college-level work, the standards resonated and won widespread interest at her university.

Over time, the effort they invested led to pride in ownership among faculty across the institution. The work of the learning communities was “a very messy process,” Fair said, “but that was part of the power of it.” In addition, this process motivated several institutions to revise their remedial courses to provide targeted support that is also aligned with the new standards.

Kentucky’s success was spurred and catalyzed by Senate Bill 1—“nothing will get you working together like a legislative mandate,” Combs acknowledged with a laugh—but colleges everywhere need to be active participants in the PK-16 education continuum, even if their state has different standards or education structures. Her recent book (coedited with Fair), Meet Me at the Commons: A Field Guide to the Common Core Standards in Higher Education (New Forums Press), provides lessons that can be applied in any setting. Many of these lessons are excerpted in the webinar slides, which are available here.

I invite you to learn more about Kentucky’s coalition-building and implementation of the standards in podcasts and other resources from the “Get It Right” campaign, available at See also this earlier webinar sponsored by AACTE and Learning Forward on Kentucky’s work on “Connecting the Professional Learning System,” and stay tuned for AACTE’s upcoming “Get It Right”-sponsored webinar looking at the innovative work at several institutions to prepare new teachers for the CCSS math standards.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE