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NOW WHAT?: New Fordham Institute Report Explores Next Steps After Common Core Adoption, Offers Model to Govern Effort

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“Standards describe the destination that schools and students are supposed to reach, but by themselves have little power to effect change,” the report says. “Much else needs to happen to successfully journey toward that destination.”

On October 28, Oregon became the latest state to adopt common core state standards in math and English language arts. And states are currently working together to develop new assessment systems that align with the common standards. But what happens next? This is the tough question that Now What? Imperatives & Options for ‘Common Core’ Implementation & Governance, a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute attempts to answer.

Calling the state-led Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) a “significant” improvement in academic expectations and clarity for the vast majority of states and crediting states for developing them, the report acknowledges that the development of the common core is just the beginning of an arduous process. “Standards describe the destination that schools and students are supposed to reach, but by themselves have little power to effect change,” the report says. “Much else needs to happen to successfully journey toward that destination.”

The report lists ten different major activities that fall under the “much else needs to happen” heading. Included in this list are: developing and deploying, then protecting, solid—and aligned—assessments; making the most of the common core achievement data; ensuring real accountability; developing tools for teachers; building online options for students; strengthening teacher licensure requirements and performance evaluations; enlisting other key sectors; encouraging greater public buy-in; launching research, validation, and evaluation studies of the standards, their implementation, the assessments, and student performance in relation to them; and updating, revising, and perhaps adding other subjects to the standards.

Of concern in the report is who or what will perform these activities and govern the common core effort over the long term. It notes that the United States currently does not have an obvious appropriate structure for managing such an enterprise and suggests that either something new be created or something that exists undergoes a major makeover. The report stresses that this entity must preserve its independence from Washington, DC of the new standards and assessments. At the same time, however, the report acknowledges that it is “folly” to suppose that the federal government will have nothing to do with them.

After collecting feedback from two dozen education leaders, the report offers three different models for governing the implementation of the common core state standards. Under the first model, which the report calls “Let’s Become More Like France,” a powerful common core governing board would oversee the standards, assessments, and other aspects of implementation, validation, and more. The second model, which the report dubs “Don’t Rock the Board,” would keep the common core footprint as small as possible. It would charge an existing group with updating the standards five or ten years from now but leave everything else up to states and districts. Under the final model, “One Foot Before the Other,” an interim coordinating body would promote information sharing and capacity building among participating states, which would remain in charge of implementation. By the time the common core standards need revising, it is envisioned that this interim body could evolve into a more permanent entity.

In the end, Now What? recommends a modified version of “One Foot Before the Other.” Under this scenario, a “Common Core Coordinating Council,” or 4C, would play a temporary information-sharing and facilitation role before morphing into something more ambitious and permanent over time. More specifically, the 4C would be responsible for five main activities:

  • Track and report on state efforts toward the implementation of the standards and assessments and the many other steps needed to give them traction.
  • Roster interstate cooperation and collaboration, especially when it comes to curriculum and other tools, teacher training and licensure issues, online-learning opportunities, and accountability systems.
  • Prepare for the eventual update of the standards and possible inclusion of additional subjects, particularly through a robust research and validation program.
  • Work toward greater understanding and buy-in of the standards among the higher education community, employers, and the general public.
  • Recommend a long-term governance arrangement.

The report acknowledges that something “bolder, more aggressive, and ambitious” than a 4C would be needed to ensure the deliberate and high-quality implementation of the common core standards—something akin to the interstate compact envisioned in the More Like France model. However, it notes that such a powerful entity could “stir passions” about a national school board or put the common standards at risk.

In a statement in response to the report, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which have been spearheading the state-led CCSSI, had a different view on what a final governance structure would look like.

“One of the key differences for us is the involvement of the federal government in the governing structure,” said NGA Executive Director Raymond C. Scheppach. “CCSSI is a state-led effort and needs to remain so. The NGA Center and CCSSO also believe a more narrowed scope of work is needed for the new governance entity, which would include monitoring state adoption and providing oversight of future activities.”

According to the statement, the NGA Center and CCSSO are currently developing a governance structure to ensure the standards will remain strong, supported by states, and lead to desired student and system outcomes.

Read the complete Fordham Institute report at http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/nowwhat/NowWhat_FINAL.pdf.

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