The Common Core Means Deeper Learning. District Leaders Get It.
October 09, 2014 12:12 pm
The recently released survey by the Center on Education Policy of district leaders on the Common Core State Standards has attracted headlines for its finding that half will not implement the standards until this year at the earliest. That finding has stirred worries that the results from new tests this year will not be good.
It is worrisome that only a third of districts have fully implemented the standards in both English language arts and mathematics, and only a third said they had adequately prepared all teachers to teach the standards. And nearly half said finding aligned curriculum materials and providing appropriate professional development was a “major challenge.”
But the survey also had some encouraging news about the future of the standards. Consider the district leaders’ responses to questions about the standards themselves. More than three-fourths of the district leaders said implementation would lead to improved skills among students; in 2011, just over half agreed with that statement. And nearly nine in 10 district leaders said the Common Core required fundamental changes in instruction, up substantially from half in 2011.
Those findings suggest that district leaders now get it. The Common Core is not just “raising the bar,” as some put it; it is not just a matter of doing the same thing a little harder. The standards represent different expectations for student learning. Students now have to think critically by using evidence to support arguments in responding to literature or in writing. They have to be able to read and comprehend appropriately challenging texts. They have to be able to use their knowledge of mathematics procedures to solve real-world problems, and be able to explain their solutions.
Many teachers and schools have been teaching this way for years. But for many more, this is new. That’s particularly true for low-income students and students of color, who have been given a steady diet of basic skills. All students deserve to develop the deeper learning competencies they will need to succeed in college and the workplace, and now the Common Core State Standards make those competencies the expectations for every student in more than 40 states.
It will not be easy for schools to respond so that all students can meet those expectations. But some recent evidence suggests that a concerted effort can pay off. A recent study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in deeper learning high schools graduated at a higher rate than comparable students in similar high schools, and were more likely to attend four-year and selective colleges. And results from this year’s state tests in Kentucky showed that three years of steady work to implement new standards and build a system for college and career readiness is bearing fruit: the proportion of students who are college- and career-ready has risen by 50 percent.
The challenges are real. And as the survey shows, district leaders recognize their magnitude. But they also showed that they are committed to meeting the challenge, and to bringing about better results for all young people.
Robert Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education.