Maximizing the Impact of the Common Core
By Gene R. Carter, Executive Director, ASCD
At first blush, last month's release of the common core standards for math and English language arts might have seemed like the culmination of a long, complicated, and sometimes controversial endeavor. In reality, the release marked only the beginning of what it will take for the standards to make a measurable difference for our students.
States must now navigate the multifaceted process of adopting the standards or, for those that have already officially adopted them, get down to the complex business of making sure the standards inform teaching and affect learning in thousands of diverse classrooms.
In May, after significant deliberation, ASCD became an endorsing partner of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). We did so because we believe the common core standards have the potential to ensure that all of our children—no matter where they grow up—will be prepared for success in college and the global workforce. But that potential will only be realized through careful implementation, which is why ASCD intends to help educators translate the standards into effective classroom practice and ensure they complement a whole child approach to education.
Targeted Professional Development
Classroom teachers are the most important group in elevating the common core standards from mere words to tangible improvements in learning. It's not enough to simply distribute the new standards to teachers and expect positive, meaningful change to spontaneously happen. We need to provide educators with targeted professional development that helps them understand the new standards, plan lessons and deliver instruction that are aligned with them, evaluate learning on an ongoing basis to determine how well students are mastering the standards, and provide additional support to the kids who need it.
This professional development cannot be a single meeting that introduces teachers to the standards and explains how they differ from previous state standards, nor can it be one or two workshops that walk teachers through curriculum resources that will help them align their classroom practice with the common core. Instead, the professional development must be sustained, job-embedded, and involve feedback and follow-up observations. It should be tied to specific instructional goals. And just as we evaluate students and teachers, we must evaluate the professional development itself to make sure it’s meeting teachers’ needs. Building educators’ local capacity and enabling them to help one another collectively and coherently deliver standards-based instruction will ultimately lead to improved student performance.
Part of a Whole Child Approach
For the common core standards to have maximum impact, they also need to be part of a comprehensive whole child approach to education. If a child has a throbbing toothache or is being bullied, it won’t matter how rigorous and relevant the standards are, or how well a teacher brings them to life in the classroom. That’s why schools and districts must work with their communities to provide a healthy, safe, and supportive environment where students are ready to master high standards.
Another part of the whole child approach is providing a broad, engaging, and challenging curriculum. The common core standards are a good start because they were designed to include both rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills. So far the CCSSI has only developed standards for English language arts and math because they’re the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes and they teach skills that are fundamental for mastering other subjects. This is valid reasoning, but ultimately the CCSSI must pursue standards development in other core subjects to avoid an unintended narrowing of the curriculum and, subsequently, our testing and accountability systems.
At ASCD, we emphasize how the whole child approach requires the collective expertise of schools, communities, families, businesses, and the public. The same holds true for successful implementation of the common core standards. Going forward, states, districts, and schools must marshal resources and develop plans—with input from educators and the public—that incorporate professional development and a whole child approach. Only then will we be certain that the standards will not gather dust on a shelf but rather make their mark on every classroom—and student—across the country.