Support for Common Core

Since their release in 2009, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts and math have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. These ambitious new standards set a much higher bar for what students need to learn at each stage of their K–12 education in order to be ready for success in college and a career upon graduation from high school. As has been widely observed, adoption was the easy part. Implementation, however, is another matter.

Key to sound implementation is recognizing the changes in teaching and learning that the CCSS require. As New York State Education Commissioner John King said, “I’m not worried about the superintendent who says, ‘There’s so much work to do. This is going to be very challenging, but it’s worth it.’ I am worried about the superintendent who says, ‘The new standards are just like the old standards. This should be an easy transition.’ If we don’t understand how big this change is and how much work it will take, then we will not get it done.”

To identify the kind of support educators need and deserve individually and collectively to improve their practice and help their students meet the demands of the new standards, it may be useful to take a look at states and districts at the forefront of adoption and implementation.

Kentucky, the first state to adopt the CCSS, has been working for three years to use the standards to improve teaching across the state. Two key elements of the state’s implementation plan include the ReadyKentucky initiative and the creation of leadership networks.

ReadyKentucky is an information initiative that helps educators, parents, civic leaders, and other Kentuckians understand the state’s academic standards and the work underway in schools. As a result of these efforts, when new assessments showed that proficiency scores had dropped significantly, the public stood by the new standards and assessments.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Education has developed leadership networks in each of the state’s 174 school districts. These networks bring together district, school, and classroom leaders to deepen understanding of the CCSS, equip teachers with the tools they need to improve instruction, and surface any problems that need attention. These teams met monthly for full-day training for the first two years and now meet quarterly. To date, teams have developed clear learning targets for students aligned with the standards, developed new assessments to assess the CCSS, and refined and revised instructional support tools.

Turning to Florida, Hillsborough County is one of the first large school districts in the country to put into effect a CCSS implementation plan focused on district-wide improvement in teaching. After an initial meeting of 50 key district leaders, state education officials, teachers, principals, and union representatives, the district convened 260 teacher leaders to attend a six-hour training session. Those teacher leaders then worked with district personnel to modify and roll out the training to all of the district’s teachers. The training is offered one evening a week and on Saturdays. While it is voluntary, stipends are given for participation. In addition, teachers have developed model instructional modules and student scoring rubrics.

What support have you and your state or district received that has been most helpful in developing a clear picture of what the standards call for? What more do you and your colleagues need to continue improving instruction and boost student learning around the new standards?

I look forward to hearing from you on this important issue.

Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington, D.C.

Previously published in AMLE Magazine, November 2013.