State Superintendent Heffner: Understanding practical Common Core implementation challenges

I had the good fortune to spend time last week with Stan Heffner, Ohio's new state superintendent of public instruction. I enjoyed the conversation mightily because it mostly focused on two things that don't usually get enough attention in education policy conversations ??? teaching and learning.

Specifically, Heffner shared with me his ideas and concerns for making sure Ohio's schools and teachers successfully implement and take ownership of the Common Core academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. (Ohio is one of 46 states that have adopted these common standards, which are slated to come online in 2014.)

The state will have to make some serious implementation decisions in the coming months and years around the Common Core, including which assessment consortium to join (right now, the Buckeye State has a foot in both the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and how to adapt the state's accountability system to the new tests and tougher standards.

But where Heffner sees the most potential, both positive and negative, is around the practical implementation issues that will face schools and school districts. This is because, as a lifelong educator, he clearly understands that at the end of the day what matters most for public education is student learning and that teachers are key to facilitating it.

Heffner argued to me (and previously had written in a February 2011 paper for the Council of Chief State Schools Officers) that the successful implementation of the Common Core, in any state, will come down to teacher involvement and ultimate buy-in. He believes that teachers should be involved in the implementation process in five significant ways:

  1. They must have a significant presence in the development of the new common assessments.
  2. They will have to change their instructional practices in critical ways if the Common Core is to ultimately lead to higher levels of student achievement.
  3. They will need model curricula ??? either generated by states themselves or by SBAC or PARCC in partnership with states ??? to help them understand and embrace the rigor and expectations of the Common Core standards.
  4. They must be involved in the development of the model curricula.
  5. They will need significant amounts of professional development in order to change their established practices and culture in favor of a new design that the Common Core standards and common assessments will demand.

America's top educators and experts have been involved in the design of both the Common Core standards and the two assessment consortia, Heffner noted. But, none of this will matter if the nation's 3.5 million teachers who will be asked to deliver the new system in America's 132,000-plus public schools don't buy into it.

Change is hard. But for it to happen, the people leading it have to enter the fray with their eyes wide open. Ohio's new state superintendent clearly understands the challenge the state faces in transitioning to the higher expectations of the Common Core. I wish him well and hope for the best not only because I have two children in an Ohio public school, but because all the state's children need the best education than can get.

The Fordham Institute, via the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, is the recipient of a two-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help support the smart implementation of the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments in the Buckeye State.?? Look for white papers, events, op-eds, and more on Common Core implementation issues in the months and years to come.?? First up, later this month, is a primer on the two assessment consortia to help guide Ohio's decision.

-Terry Ryan

This article also appeared in today's edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly

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