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Will Common Core Change Anything?

Ken Kay and Bob Lenz, writing in Education Week, wonder which path Common Core will take as it meanders through various states’ education systems.  Key is chief executive of EdLeader21, a network of education leaders in Tucson, and Lenz is CEO of Envision Education, a nonprofit charter management organization in Oakland.  One path for Common Core, they say, is that the curriculum will be absorbed or subsumed into the existing curriculum in many schools with very little actual change.  The second, more Change-1 arduous path is that the curriculum will become the vehicle for a “transformational opportunity for our nation’s teaching and learning systems.”  I suspect most schools will follow Path #1.

Kay and Lenz call for Common Core standards to be the “floor” and not the “ceiling” of achievement.  Calling for schools to adopt a “Common Core and more” approach, they see the standards as a way to bring higher level thinking skills into the classroom – skills like analysis, inquiry, and research.   Common Core would be the jumping off point to transform teaching so that students could acquire the skills they need for college and/or career. 

Some educational leaders see the promise in Common Core, Kay and Lenz say.  Others see it as just another “compliance exercise.”   The final result, I think, will be something in-between.  The school curriculum will change, but the change will be neither systemic nor revolutionary.

School districts move with glacial slowness to adopt and implement innovative practices.  Entrenched practices tend to rub the sharp angles off new initiatives until they settle more comfortably into established routines.  Take, for example, the new teacher evaluation systems adopted in many states.  In Florida, 97%
of teachers were recently judged effective or highly effective.  In Michigan, 98% of teachers were found to be effective or better.  In Tennessee, 98% of teachers were “at expectations.”

Observes Jenny Anderson, writing in the New York Times, “Even the part of the [teacher’s] grade that was intended to be objective, how students perform on standardized tests, has proved squishy.  In part, this is because tests have changed so much in recent years – and are changing still, because of the new Common Core … administrators have been unwilling to set the test-score bar too high for teachers.”

Teachers and administrators say that constantly changing standards and tests make it nearly impossible to know exactly what students need to know to perform well on the new tests.  Others find the high scores of teacher performance unsettling particularly after all the money and time that has been poured into Common Core.  Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality says. “It is too soon to say that we’re where we started and it’s all been for nothing.  But there are some alarm bells going off.”

One of the reasons that new school initiatives fail to make systemic changes is that with rare exception, 90% of money and effort is spent on initial training and implementation; 10% of money and effort is spent on maintenance.  The exception occurs when training occurs in waves over several years and maintenance is consequently ongoing.  It remains to be seen whether administrators are committed to full implementation of Common Core so that teacher training is ongoing and evaluation is strongly connected to the standards.  Otherwise, it will remain business as usual in Common Core schools.






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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.