Issue: Spring/Summer 2014
In Choosing The Common Core
Timothy Cox '97
Common Core: these two little words make for great lead stories in the news and very opinionated discussion around the kitchen table, especially as children and parents struggle to complete homework assignments that make simple math feel like a foreign language. But news stories and dinnertime conversation about “Common Core” rarely express the realities of their creation, adoption and implementation, let alone the intent of their impact on student learning and on closing national achievement gaps. Despite all the good we see in classrooms as a result of Common Core, there are heavily perpetuated myths that fuel misconception and sometimes anger, even though they were adopted and implemented locally in the spirit of choice.
Reform movements come into education as fast as winds change in Washington. The nation, New York State included, is in the midst of a Federal education overhaul called “Race to the Top.” We are facing a widening achievement gap between American students and their global counterparts on state assessments and on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is the largest common, national assessment of its kind that compares American students with global students using similar standards. The NAEP and other assessment results identify large gaps between graduating high school seniors and skills needed for success in college or skills necessary for gainful employment. Regardless of the debate over the efficacy of standardized testing, it is these identified gaps on multiple assessments that are fueling this reform, leaving us with little choice but to change.
The National Governors Association and their appointees, including classroom teachers from around the country, chose to create common educational standards in 2010 called the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). These were created in response to the national imperative that we must close the achievement gap identified on student assessments. Soon after, the New York State Education Department also chose to adopt these standards for implementation in the classroom at the local level.
Federal and State Education Departments have given local schools total control and choice in how the CCLS were actualized in their schools. The assumption that State Education Departments have dictated day-to-day curricular implementation of Common Core is simply not true. Each individual school has had the choice of whether or not to adopt the daily curriculum that actualizes the CCLS in its school. Some schools have transitioned well, while others are struggling to navigate the complex depths of that change with their faculty, students and communities.
So much of the educational reform process rests on the shoulders of local school superintendents and principals. They are often caught between the visions of national and state leaders and those of their local communities and school boards; sometimes these parties view education reform in different lights. In my role as director of instructional support services for the Cattaraugus-Allegany Board of Cooperative Educational Services (C-A BOCES), I have witnessed many great leaders that have led their educational systems with balance between these multiple perspectives.
Superintendents and principals in Allegany and Cattaraugus counties of New York State chose to act fast to initiate the change process in 2010. This involved digging into the new standards and translating them into an articulated daily curriculum. The transition involved a plan of careful steps that acknowledged key stakeholders along the way: students, teachers and community members. Teachers were provided with professional development support. Local leaders hosted community forums to discuss changes that were coming to the classroom, working hard to find the balance between national, state and local needs in their communities. For the most part, the CCLS have been implemented well in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties. The region’s teachers have worked very hard to learn new standards, examine local curricula for alignment, and make changes in classroom instruction. Some schools have adopted a state-created curriculum, while others have chosen to enhance their local curriculum with content and skills aligned with the CCLS. Implementing new curriculum that is properly spiraled, taught, and assessed is one of the largest tasks any school can embark upon.
As with most change, it is a series of choices over time rather than a single event. It was a choice to address educational achievement gaps. It was a choice to create and adopt the CCLS. Each local school district had a choice in how they would make the Common Core come alive. We have to be patient though. One of the most frustrating aspects to education reform is that it can take years to measure change. Even in schools where we perceive quality implementation, the results might not reveal themselves fully until students are arriving prepared for college and careers upon high school graduation. Until then, it is simply too soon to tell.
Tim Cox ’97 is Director of Instructional Support Services at C-A BOCES, which provides professional development and classroom resources to 20,000 students and 2,000 educators in 22 component schools in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties. C-A BOCES professional development personnel have been charged by the New York State Education Department to support the region in Common Core implementation.