Impact of the Common Core

Everywhere you turn there is information about the Common Core. Educational reformers are pinning their hopes on this new curriculum framework, that by focusing on depth instead of breadth, and by articulating a set of rigorous standards for student learning, educational transformation will be achieved.
I believe the Common Core Standards—in Kentucky we are calling them the Kentucky Core Academic Standards—have the potential to improve learning for students, if several conditions exist. The first condition is that the new standards serve as the basis for instructional planning. While this seems obvious, my experience tells me that we often as educators use new standards as a checklist to confirm what we are already doing, rather than starting anew and building the curriculum and instruction around the standards. This first condition is more complicated than it seems. It requires those of us responsible for teaching or for supervising instruction to understand the standards and what they are intended to achieve. We must be able to imagine what it will look like if students master the standards, what kind of work they will produce and how they will demonstrate mastery on assessments of progress.
two science studentsThe second condition is that these standards are applied to the education of each child, not just the students who are currently performing at high levels. I believe this is where past attempts at introducing high standards for achievement have failed. If the Common Core truly represents learning we think is worthwhile, without which students will experience an impoverished education and not graduate from high school ready for college, then we need to create ways to ensure that each student has the opportunity to engage with and to master the standards. Some students will need more time, either because they learn more slowly or because they lack the preparation to succeed in challenging coursework. Some students will need leveled materials that allow them access to the learning implied by the standards and at the same time help them to deepen their literacy skills. Other students will need a range of entry points and classroom strategies beyond lecture or drill and practice. Finally, assessments used to gather both formative and summative assessment data on student learning will need to take into account that not all students demonstrate knowledge in the same way.
The third condition is an openness of mind and flexibility in dealing with new challenges. If we expect this latest reform to achieve the desired impact, we will have to imagine new working structures, different patterns of instruction, and an expanded role for students in their own education, one that allows more voice, choice and engagement. All three conditions require strong administrator and teacher leadership, but the third condition requires more. Those in a position to lead Common Core implementation efforts have to model the kinds of actions and attitudes they hope to see school wide. Without cynicism or compliance, but instead with a spirit of innovation and urgency, leaders must invite their colleagues to use the Common Core as leverage to achieve their hopes for their students and their school.

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