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Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, promising full implementation by the 2014-15 school year. While most of the discussion about the Common Core has focused on its technical merits, ability to facilitate innovation and improve accountability systems, or the challenges of practical implementation, there has been little talk of how the standards fit in with the larger reform ecosystem. For all of the positive accounts and harsh criticisms, it is not yet clear whether the Common Core will complement or conflict with current school reform agendas. If the Common Core is pursued with insufficient thought to practical and policy implications, the movement is at risk of stifling the next generation of instruction and assessment, as well as other education reforms.
Further, the future of the Common Core depends crucially on the breadth, depth, and stability of public support. Organizations, institutions, and political leaders will be tasked with making the tough political decisions necessary to adopt, fund, and implement the Common Core. Whether the Common Core is supported by political leaders or undermined by political dynamics and competing pieces of the school reform agenda will determine its success. In order to maximize the chance that this effort is fruitful, we need to be realistic about the challenges ahead. This commissioned research will help policymakers anticipate the challenges ahead, and offer practical and actionable responses to the questions that will mark the next phase of implementation efforts.
The education community currently faces the reality of integrating the Common Core State Standards with existing policies, including state accountability systems. Policymakers’ responses to the challenges and opportunities this effort presents will play a significant role in determining the eventual success or failure of the Common Core initiative. This paper identifies and discusses four major accountability-related issues that policymakers will confront as they work to implement the Common Core standards. Specifically, the paper focuses on 1) aligning the Common Core standards with the content of the associated standardized tests, 2) redefining proficiency in terms of the Common Core standards, 3) the opportunity for increased comparability across states, and 4) how the Department of Education’s ESEA waivers will affect the relationship between the Common Core standards and existing accountability systems. The analysis suggests that integrating the Common Core standards with state accountability systems is likely to be a contentious process, particularly when it comes time to set proficiency thresholds. Policy makers can work to facilitate successful implementation of the Common Core standards by recognizing the need to operate within the constraints of existing state educational cultures and by addressing the structural cause of problems that arise, as opposed to implementing temporary and superficial solutions.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative has an air of inevitably that few reforms can tout in the contemporary political environment. But, the politics of adoption do not always foreshadow those of implementation. This paper considers the political realities that have or will emerge as states translate the symbolic aims of the Common Core into practice. Challenges will include navigating tight budgets, instituting contentious reforms to accountability systems that will shine a light on poor performance, and sustaining the political will necessary to implement the standards with fidelity. The author shows how and why the politics will change during implementation, considers why the most visible threats (e.g., partisanship) are probably not the most serious, and finally, demonstrates how implementation choices can improve or undermine the prospects for reform over time. The paper concludes in observing: reforms become effective and durable because of their politics, not in spite of them.
Robin Lake, Tricia Maas
Ideologically, the Common Core State Standard Initiative’s push for more centralized control over what teachers teach could appear to be in direct opposition to charter school philosophy, which delegates decision-making to the school level. However, there are also aspects of the initiative that may appeal to charter schools, including the standards’ academic rigor, the opportunity to support a high-quality market for instructional materials, and the new ability to compare school performance across state lines. Based on interviews with over a dozen charter school thought leaders and survey results from 19 charter support organizations, this paper explores the diversity of opinions about the CCSS in the charter sector and how various organizations in the arena are preparing (or not) to implement the new standards. The authors raise questions about how charter support organizations can best assist charter schools with their professional development needs—a role that they have rarely, if ever, been asked to play before— while preserving school autonomy. We also spotlight promising practices from several support organizations and discuss how charter supporters can be proactive in addressing the challenges that the Common Core may present.
Governors have been at the forefront of the national standards debate since the first Education Summit in 1989. These efforts came to a head when the states, under the leadership of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), developed the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010. With forty-six states having adopted the standards, policy makers and practitioners will now be confronted with the difficult task of implementation. Based on the author’s firsthand experience working with governors as director of NGA’s education division, this paper describes the many opportunities and challenges that states may face as they move down this road. First, states will have an opportunity to collaborate in areas beyond common assessments, such as developing professional development for teachers. States will also need to fundamentally rethink student supports and teacher preparation if the Common Core is to fulfill its promise. In this paper, the author describes how governors will play a crucial role in supporting these policies, navigating budget shortfalls, and ensuring that states have the political will to stay the course when it comes to the CCSS initiative.
Most of the debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) effort to date has focused on substantive issues surrounding the drafting of the standards and assessments themselves. Less attention has been paid to crucial questions surrounding the governance of such an effort over the longer term, particularly if the federal government’s role in the initiative is to be limited. How might decision-making for a voluntary, state-based, but multi-state set of common standards in education be institutionalized? How can the interests of diverse governmental and nongovernmental actors operating at the national, state, and local levels be accommodated? What kind(s) of institutional structure(s) can ensure that common standards and assessments remain rigorous and up-to-date, incentivize state participation, and create a stable governance and financing mechanism that is able to sustain the venture over time? This paper lays out a variety of essential questions that are central to thinking about governance, irrespective of any particular structure, in this context. It synthesizes the results of interviews with approximately twenty stakeholders representing a wide range of perspectives related to the Common Core and concludes by offering several possible governance models for further consideration, together with a preliminary appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses.
Michael Q. McShane
Implementing any large, national initiative that requires the federal government, states, and localities to cooperate is an extremely difficult task. The Common Core is no exception. In order for the Common Core to complement (and not conflict with) efforts to improve schooling, a variety of actors with the diverse incentives and motivations will need to coordinate their efforts in unprecedented ways. This paper breaks down these decisions and the complicated political landscape in which they will need to be made. Such decisions can be divided into three general phases, with the first occurring between the time at which the standards were adopted and before the assessments are unveiled by the testing consortia. The second will occur after the assessments surface but before they are taken to scale, and the third will begin after the tests are fully operational and must be integrated into state and district accountability systems. Taking this into account, the author concludes by estimating the endeavor’s likelihood of success, and offering recommendations for policy makers and practitioners to improve these odds.
This paper analyzes the prospects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative introducing a set of national standards for social studies. It traces the history of efforts to create a common curriculum in American education, focusing on social studies and history, and paying close attention to the “history wars” of the 1990s. The author interviews educators and education policy makers, some of whom were involved in those “wars,” and discusses some of the major differences between the National Forum for History Standards initiative of the ‘90s and today’s CCSS initiative, offering four lessons learned from the earlier effort. Finally, in light of the lessons learned and the current debate over the CCSS ELA and math standards, the author asks educators and policymakers for their assessments about the chances of seeing common standards in social studies, concluding that, while progress toward a common core in ELA and math has been impressive, the momentum gained in that effort may not be enough to achieve consensus on social studies standards. “One thing seems certain,” the author warns. “We don’t give [students] their history at their – and their country’s – peril.”
This chapter discusses the intersection of the Common Core State Standards with recent teacher quality policies such as new teacher evaluation systems and efforts to improve teacher preparation. The author argues that these two sets of reforms can only be mutually beneficial if teachers are able to implement the Common Core with fidelity. This means teachers must be supported through pre-service and in-service training programs and provided with aligned curriculum materials and assessments. If teachers are supported in these ways, educators will be able to learn about effective instructional practices in ways not previously possible. However, there are serious challenges to achieving these synergies. Among these are the short timeline for implementation of new teacher evaluation policies and the brewing political issues from both sides of the aisle that may lead to blowback against one or both sets of policies. In conclusion, the author suggests that a short-term moratorium on the use of Common Core assessment results for teacher evaluations, improvements in the nature of data used to make decisions about teacher effectiveness, and rigorous investigation of the alignment of supporting materials to the standards will maximize the likelihood of successful implementation.
AEI’s Frederick M. Hess and Michael Q. McShane have commissioned eight papers that address the complements and conflicts assciated with this state-driven initiative and provide actionable responses to the questions that will mark the next phase of Common Core implementation efforts.
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