Common Core Discussed at Askwith ForumBy Jill Anderson
For many education leaders today one of the toughest changes to implement to date is the Common Core Standards Initiative.
At the recent Askwith Forum “Common Core: Perils, Pitfalls, and Opportunities,” Professor Paul Reville asked Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, Ed.M.’88, Ed.D.’91, and New York State Education Department Commissioner John King, Jr., about the challenges in leading such a change.
Since its development in 2009, the Common Core initiative, adopted by 45 states, continues to face criticism and controversy. Reville reminded the audience that the forum’s focus was on leadership and implementing changes, not the rationale for Common Core. “We are not here to debate Common Core [or] debate whether to have assessments,” he said. Instead, they were there to discuss the debate once policy decisions have been made, including the role of chief state school officers in leading implementations.
Part of what is so challenging, King and Chester agreed, is actually scaling such a large sweeping change.
“It’s turning these statements of aspiration about what it means to be literate and mathematically competent into an actual program of study that students experience that delivers these results for students classroom by classroom,” Chester said. In Massachusetts, that’s about 80,000 classrooms for a million students, and approximately 250,000 classrooms for 3 million students in New York, he said. “How do you leverage, how do you scale that kind of instructional reform so that all students are experiencing a high-quality program of instruction that actually does prepare them well for the expectations for the world after high school?”
The challenge begins with identifying and creating those high-quality programs of instruction. Then, it gives way to larger problems like how to teach a new curriculum, create lesson plans, and support teachers, as well as aid districts in implementation. As Chester noted, there are many schools already delivering high-quality programs of instruction in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country, but simply picking up the Common Core standards isn’t actually helpful to determine what to teach.
“We have a what problem, a how problem, and a who problem,” King said. States are left to their own devices in creating curriculum, and they need to be cautious in how they do so, especially considering how many districts are already struggling with old standards.
“This brings us back to: Do we have the capacity to support districts in meeting these higher standards in areas that have been historically underserved?” King said, pointing out that time and resources are scarce.
On top of the challenges present in building a new curriculum and delivering high-quality instruction, Common Core also includes assessments — which begin fairly soon after its adoption by a state — that are causing anxiety and pressure.
“Political leadership is being tested about resolve and the higher standard,” King said, acknowledging that New York has undergone many changes to assessments in recent years. “There is always year one, and [there is] no way you can’t have year one …. There is always anxiety and pressure.”
Even with all the challenges, King and Chester admitted that states and schools cannot afford to wait any longer.
“There are a lot of people who say we are going too fast…,” Chester said, noting it’s important to find balance. “When opportunity strikes you need to take advantage of it. Rolling these out together is a smart idea. The problem with waiting until everyone has had enough time to implement the new curriculum frameworks is that we can be waiting a long time, we can be sitting here five years from now, 10 years from now, and there will be plenty of folks saying that we are not ready.”
They encouraged the public to allow time for Common Core to be implemented and education leaders to make it work. “Give us a decade to let us get this right,” King said. “”This isn’t a one- year exercise.”