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March 1, 2013
Vol. 70
No. 6

Reader Response

The Common Core and Its Chances

In "The Common Core Initiative: What Are the Chances of Success?" (Educational Leadership, December 2012/January 2013), Tom Loveless presents a gloom-and-doom scenario that predicts the non-impact of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. He fails to offer even a hint of a silver lining.
However, any movement that turns the rusted fleet of supertankers in education even 5 degrees toward progress might just offer speedboat opportunities for change—and this in a field in which change is about as welcome as scurvy. If 46 states agree to mobilize around anything, it means they're ready, even desperate, for change that might actually lead to more effective teaching and authentic learning. How can we tap into this and give schools aspirational frameworks that not only invite teacher input, but also offer alignment and common language, tailored professional development that sticks, and the chance to see that some of what the folks at the Core Knowledge Foundation and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills advocate are not that far apart.
As Loveless points out, there are several problems with the Common Core initiative. It's just a set of standards, not a curriculum. It may not address the real disparity in student achievement, which occurs within—not among—states. Finally, efforts to provide professional development around standards leave way too much room for interpretation and negate the very idea behind the word "common" in the Common Core Initiative.
But work that our team at Columbia University's Teachers College is doing in school-university pilot partnerships shows that when teachers join together to craft a common lens through which to imagine teaching and learning—and when that lens provides not only a clear depth of field that gives dimension to complex 21st century global capacities, but also clear applications for classroom practice—the work of school transcends "common" and becomes exemplary.
Instead of focusing on the Common Core initiative all by itself, we're seeing teachers use their own language to adapt a research-based, 21st century framework and use that framework to examine their content and student work and to inform how they shape curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In the process, they collaborate more within and across grade levels and disciplines; they take risks; they push themselves to disrupt business as usual; and they expect the same of their students. The bridge between intention and actual practice morphs into a natural causeway that honors essential content knowledge and, at the same time, recognizes and cultivates crucial capacities, such as the ability to ask deep questions; to imagine; to synthesize and analyze; to solve complex nonstandard problems; and to know when and how to strategically collaborate to get the job done. As a result, professional development fosters continual improvement; it serves as ongoing, real-time, and radical fine-tuning of practice that directly links to what matters most for students.
Regardless of what it is or isn't, the Common Core initiative sparked shape-shifting dialogue around the need for change. Let's take advantage of that spark to retool our sinking education supertankers into a fleet that is sleek, nimble, forward-moving, and beyond merely common.
<ATTRIB> Deb Sawch, Alison Villanueva, and Suzanne Choo are codirectors, Studies in Educational Innovation, at Teachers College, Columbia University. </ATTRIB>

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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