Stanford University is joining with the state's largest teachers union to prepare schools for new learning goals that will change the way California students are taught and tested.
The project, which formally launches this week, initially involves training 160 teachers and 24 administrators, who, in turn, will reach about 50,000 educators over three years.
Organizers said Sunday that the collaboration, with the California Teachers Assn., is the largest training effort in the state.
Forty-three states have adopted the Common Core Learning Standards. They are not a curriculum, but a road map of English and math concepts that students are supposed to learn in each grade. The state also has adopted new science standards. It's up to instructors, schools and school districts to decide how to convey this material to students.
"This will help teachers identify good materials and will produce some good materials for them to use," said Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond. "This is also about how you teach."
The hope is that the new standards will promote deeper thinking and improved writing and will better prepare students for higher-level math and for solving problems in and outside of school. In science, for example, instead of memorizing facts for a multiple-choice test, students would be expected to solve a scientific problem over a period of time, often working in a group, using laboratory materials as well as online resources.
Students also are supposed to make connections across subjects such as science and literature that used to be treated as unrelated.
The new standards have provoked controversy in many states. In California, they've mainly roused anxiety about whether teachers — let alone students — are ready. Test scores based on the new standards will be released for the first time this year in California.
School districts are about 20% to 80% prepared, said Darling-Hammond.
The union collaboration is badly needed, said CTA President Dean Vogel.
"Not enough people are really qualified to be out there teaching teachers," he said. "Who better to train than the best and the brightest among us?"
Some districts are more ready than others. In the Lennox School District, in the South Bay, a group of 37 teachers, more than 10% of the workforce, already was developing model lesson plans, said Brian Guerrero, a middle-school teacher and union leader who also is part of the new statewide effort.
Another participant, L.A. Unified elementary teacher Steve Seal, called his district's training "piecemeal" in quantity and quality. Another issue, he said, was overcoming skepticism from some teachers, who question whether Common Core is just another passing fad, or worse.
Participants receive an annual stipend of $2,000. Funders include the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, Stuart Foundation, National Education Assn. and California Education Policy Fund, which is substantially supported by the Hewlett Foundation.