For some strange reason it had to be.
He guided me to Tennessee.
When looking for a model of smart Common Core implementation, it’s easy to get depressed. Most state plans are confusing, their guidance buried deep in government websites (usually in hard to read documents full of jargon), their tactics difficult to follow, and their policies disconnected, compliance-oriented, and unlikely to set educators up for success.
I know what you are thinking: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
But there is some hope amidst the noise. And fittingly enough for these voluntary common standards, that hope is in the Volunteer State. Tennessee has been quietly developing what might be the most thoughtful, cohesive, and outcomes-driven state CCSS implementation plan in the nation.
There are three areas, in particular, where Tennessee seems to be outshining the rest of the states: leading with outcomes; clarity of communication and smart prioritization; and growing leaders, as opposed to micromanaging teachers.
Leading with outcomes
Far too often, Common Core implementation efforts are an amalgam of compliance-oriented activities and programs masquerading as thoughtful and effective implementation plans.
Tennessee’s approach seems refreshingly different. The state has set specific goals for each of its first four years of CCSS implementation. In 2012-13, for instance, they expect a 4 point scale score growth for all students on the NAEP 4th grade math, and a 5 point scale score growth for students on the NAEP 8th grade
In the world of standards-based and data-driven instruction, knowing precisely how the Common Core will be assessed is critical. After all, while standards help explain what students should know and be able to do, it’s the assessments that clarify how student mastery will be measured. And that information is critical to ensuring that what is taught in the classroom matches—in terms of both content and rigor—what is articulated in the standards and measured by the assessments.
Knowing precisely how the Common Core will be assessed is critical.
Yet, both federally funded assessment consortia have only given glimpses of how they plan to measure student mastery of the Common Core—which of course makes the information communicated and sample items shared by the consortia all the more critical to classroom-level Common Core implementation efforts.
Most recently, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium released a small handful of web-based English language arts and math sample test items, which are available for public comment and feedback until November 2. While useful for painting a picture of how a few standards will be assessed and how technology will be used, the quality and rigor of the questions themselves are a mixed bag. While some help demonstrate just how different instruction aligned to a standard needs to be to meet the content and rigor demands of the CCSS, others seem poorly constructed, or misaligned to the demands of the new standards.
To begin, several questions are quite strong and
A recent Common Core-sympathetic article carried by the WSJ begins with an anecdote about a too-seldom mentioned potential upside of tougher standards: that fewer parents will need to pay for remedial courses when their kids reach college (“something parents of about a quarter of all New York students entering college now do”).
It’s a lot easier to say “Common Core implementation” than to do it.
But what really comes through in this article is that it’s not completely clear what “Common Core implementation” actually means. This is something I’ve been fretting about since my time at the New Jersey Department of Education.
Though the reporter and numerous sources quoted throughout the article use buzz words (“rigorous,” “complex texts,” “ready for college and career success,” “mapping backward,” “analytical reading and writing skills,” and “text-based instruction.”), their translation into real-life practice is garbled English at best, ancient Greek at worst.
It seems to me that many of the Common Core’s most strident defenders don’t understand or appreciate that state and local leaders don’t know exactly what they should be doing. That confusion trickles down to teachers, preparation programs, and lots of other players. In short, it’s a lot easier to say “Common Core implementation” than to do it.
This is why Checker Finn’s piece about “How the Common Core changes everything” is so valuable. And scary. Finn lists twenty
Keeping up with up with the inaccuracies and distortions in the Common Core debate can sometimes feel like the classic arcade game Whack-a-Mole. As soon as you finishing knocking down one half-truth or mischaracterization, another pops up somewhere else. Publishers have, for instance, scrambled to claim alignment when none exists or to actively co-opt the standards for their own ends. Now political ideologues have gotten into the game, adding a whole new level of difficulty.
Correcting inaccuracies about the Common Core is like playing Whack-A-Mole—only less fun.
Photo by Julia Rubinic.
The political opponents of the Common Core—like the self-interested publishers and consultants—are quick to make broad and often inaccurate claims about the new standards. Though their intent is different, the impact may be equally damaging, particularly since they hope to bury the standards entirely, not just make a buck off the coming wave of CCSS implementation. The great irony, though, is that, by pitching the Common Core as something that it isn’t, CCSS opponents may inadvertently end up promoting exactly the kind of content-less, skills-driven instruction that they claim to be fighting against.
Take, for example, Phyllis Schlafly. Godmother of the modern conservative advocacy movement, Schlafly burst onto the scene in the 1970s with her successful campaign
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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