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The Common Core: A Lifeline for a Nation at Risk?

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Will the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) move us beyond a nation at risk?

In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education published a report entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform, it launched a series of restructuring efforts that still reverberate through school halls today.  One of the hallmark characteristics of this reform movement was states adopting standards for student learning in all subject areas.

Unfortunately, these standards varied widely in terms of expectations and rigor, and almost 30 years later, too many of our nation’s children remain at risk. In an effort to establish consistent, clear expectations of what students are to learn and be able to do, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers cosponsored an initiative to develop common standards for the entire nation.  The work resulted in Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in math, English/language arts, and literacy in science, social studies and technical subjects.

Washington state adopted the CCSS in 2011, and by 2014-15, it is expected that these standards will be fully implemented in the state and that student achievement will be measured by a new assessment system. How will we get there?

In the Northshore School District, where I work, instructional coaches (also known as “teachers on special assignment” or TOSAs), have been tapped to prepare our teachers to implement the CCSS. I recently met with these coaches, thinking that resources like Success at the Core could offer some helpful tools to support their work.

We started out looking at the Instructional Expertise module and specifically, at the video called “Effective Coaching Systems.” The video illustrates how one middle school has implemented a schoolwide coaching system and how coaches work with content area teams to build instructional capacity. The coaches appreciated how the video emphasized the importance of the role of the coach in school improvement. At one point in the video, a teacher states, “We’re all in it together. We’re all going through this process and helping each other through it.” I think this is how we all feel about implementing the CCSS.

I also pointed out a few additional Leadership Development modules to support their work. We discussed how the materials in the Implementing New Programs module can help them understand and track the stages of CCSS implementation and how the Aligning Curriculum module offers tools for upcoming CCSS alignment efforts. The coaches were excited, in particular, about the modules’ facilitator guides, which they felt would be great aides as they shared these materials in upcoming professional development sessions.

After exploring the Leadership Development modules, we looked briefly at the Teacher Development resources and watched the “Show Your Cards” video. We then discussed how this formative assessment technique, and others on the SaC site, could be used to help teachers gauge student understanding related to the CCSS.

Finally, we looked together at the SaC blog, Core Connections. There, the coaches were excited to see the emerging dialogue around CCSS implementation and are eager to see how it grows and evolves.

On the 25th anniversary of the release of A Nation at Risk, the nonpartisan organization Strong American Schools released a report card of our nation’s progress since the initial report. Their update stated, “We have enough commonsense ideas, backed by decades of research, to significantly improve American schools.” I see SaC as one such resource. And, I hope that its tools – in conjunction with others being developed to implement the CCSS—will move our nation from “at risk” to “on the path to educational excellence.”

What do you think?

You might also like:

Strange New Worlds
SaC Makes Learning Local
CCSS: When Vocabulary Alone Isn't Enough

11 Responses to The Common Core: A Lifeline for a Nation at Risk?

  1. Ailene Baxter says:

    Obadiah-
    I really appreciate this post. I love how you have systematically laid out a variety of directions, options, and tools for successful implementation of the CCSS. In particular, I will use your post as a reference guide, paying particular attention to entry points for differing teams of teachers. I will be interested to hear more of how your coaches use the differnet modules. Thank you again.

  2. Corrie Freiwaldt says:

    I think about the lack of tools teachers had to learn from back in 1983. The task to restructure our schools was HUGE and almost impossible to get everyone “on board” without the use of online resources. I think having the technological tools of our day, will multiply the outcomes of the effort teachers, coaches, administrators put towards this transition and I am confident that some day, soon, we will all move forward being on the “same page” with the CCSS. Thank you for putting these resources together in one place for us to access easily.

  3. Deb Gribskov says:

    This movement, to “standardize” what students will learn is huge. Trying to help teachers understand and embrace these common core standards feels daunting sometimes. It is helpful to come here and see the comments of others, read their suggestions, connect with their stories. I think it helps me when I am coaching, and I think it helps the teachers I work with as they see “a bigger picture” of reform. This new ability to share so quickly with others… ideas, concerns, insights… should help give this reform a much greater chance of success. When we share with others we gain so much. I appreciate being able to read what others are doing, thinking, struggling with. Thanks for reminding me about the history of this reformation, and for giving me a place to read and think about how it is evolving.

    • Wendy says:

      I agree Deb. Its the discussion that moves us all along, isn’t it? It is our high hope at SaC that others will join this conversation to share tools that they have found helpful in their settings as they think about CCSS implementation.

  4. Heather Byington says:

    The Common Core standards do not seem to me to be significantly different from the state standards that we’ve had in our state since I started teaching 15 years ago. However, change seldom happens seamlessly. As a classroom teacher, it seems like what my fellow teachers want right now is a voice throughout this process. Many teachers feel buffeted right now by all of the changes that are happening, seemingly spurred on and driven, at times, by people who are not public educators. It’s great to see teachers’ ideas, perspectives, and talents highlighted on SaC. It’s great to be able to use SaC resources to focus educator discussions around how CCSS and other new initiatives fit into the great things that teachers have been doing and not focus on how teachers need to change to meet the demands of new initiatives.

    • Wendy says:

      Such a great point, Heather. The SaC videos show teachers and leadership teams taking up best practices. Its helpful to remind ourselves that such practices — when based on research and used effectively — align with the CCSS initiative and other reform efforts that educators are being asked to embrace.

    • Andrea Brixey says:

      As another classroom teacher, I totally agree Heather. At a staff development meeting recently, when asked how implementing CCSS made you feel, a teacher in my small group said, “It will either make me a lot better, or I’ll quit.” Taking the measured approach that Obadiah lays out shows that there is a middle ground: continuous reflection and gradual implementation and improvement–based on what you already know and do. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  5. Tyler Rice says:

    There is a great dramatic tension around the CCSS.

    On the one hand, common standards can help our school system in many ways. On the flip side, is “standardization” of education what we really want?

    What I do appreciate about the CCSS is the preference they place on higher order thinking skills over basic content knowledge.

    Still, there has to be room for teacher creativity. There has to be room for individualizing education for our students when possible. There must be time and space for creativity and inquiry.

  6. Tyler Rice says:

    Here’s another question – one for all commenters:

    Are we really a nation at risk?

    You can’t compare our PISA or TIMSS scores to China, Singapore, etc. because those countries only educate their best and brightest in this manner. We hold education to be a basic right in America.

    When compared to other nations that actually educate ALL students, we actually stack up very favorably.

    That being said, there are many failing schools that are doing a disservice to the students who are unfortunate enough to have to attend them. Will the CCSS fix these schools?

    • Andrea Brixey says:

      Great question, Tyler. We recently gathered some data at my school that reflects a difficult trend: our student population is around 30% Latino. Students with one or more failing grades are 55% Latino. Is the sky falling and collapse imminent? I don’t believe so. Do we have some work to do to create the opportunity and climate for all of our students to learn? Yes.

      Will the CCSS fix things for us? Probably not. However, if they compel a staff to gather and find out who is really learning–and what they are learning–I feel the CCSS could be of some benefit.

      • Obadiah Dunham says:

        Common Core and new Teacher Evaluation System are two major initiatives facing educators in the very near future. I wonder if either will ensure increased learning for struggling learners? What supports will teachers need to turn the initiatives into increased use of effective instructional habits?

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