This from the Fordham Institute:
The Common Core State Standards are in place in forty-five states—and in many of those jurisdictions, educators are hard at work trying to bring them to life in their schools and classrooms.
But how is implementation going so far? That’s what this new study explores in four “early-implementer” school systems. Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers provides an in-depth examination of real educators as they earnestly attempt to put higher standards into practice. This up-close look
at district-level, school-level, and classroom-level implementation yields several key findings:
In short, districts are in the near-impossible situation of operationalizing new standards before high-quality curriculum and tests aligned to them are finished. Yet the clock is ticking, and the new tests and truly aligned textbooks are forthcoming. Today’s implementation is a bit like spring training, a time when focusing on the fundamentals, teamwork, and steady improvement is more important than the score.
- Teachers and principals are the primary faces and voices of the Common Core standards in their communities
- Implementation works best when district and school leaders lock onto the Common Core standards as the linchpin of instruction, professional learning, and accountability in their buildings
- In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving—with mixed success—to devise their own
- The scramble to deliver quality CCSS-aligned professional development to all who need it is as crucial and (so far) as patchy as the quest for suitable curriculum materials
- The lack of aligned assessments will make effective implementation of the Common Core challenging for another year
The early implementers are:
The trailblazer. Kenton County School District, Kentucky—a mid-size bedroom community just outside Cincinnati with close to 15,000 students—is our earliest Common Core implementer. It has been working for more than three years on implementation, having started training its secondary teachers on learning and teaching to the standards shortly after the Common Core’s release in 2010. Educators there are just beginning to observe gains in their students’ performance.The urban bellwether. Metro Nashville Public Schools, with nearly 80,000 students, is in the literal and figurative center of a leading reform state. Tennessee’s major education reforms of recent years include an “Expect More, Achieve More” campaign to raise academic standards, a first-round Race to the Top win, a first-in-the-nation revised system for statewide teacher evaluation, and nation-leading gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2011 and 2013. Metro Nashville’s leadership quickly and vigorously committed to the Common Core, introducing it in classrooms in 2011–2012, a full school year ahead of most Tennessee districts. Metro Nashville also maintains a close relationship with its state education agency, which has taken a strong role in Common Core implementation.
The high-performing suburb. Illinois’s District 54, serving Schaumburg and surrounding municipalities, is a K–8 school district of about 14,000 students in the Chicago suburbs. It is a high-achieving, high-capacity suburban district located in an ethnically diverse and largely affluent community. With its enthusiastic embrace of the Common Core and extensive preparation during 2012–2013, District 54 illustrates what these standards may mean for high-flying districts wondering whether the Common Core is right for their kids, too.
The creative implementer. Washoe County School District, Nevada’s second-largest with nearly 65,000 students, encompasses the Reno-Tahoe area and most of the state’s northwest corner. Unlike districts that have received multiple federal or private grants, Washoe has instead grappled with consecutive years of budget cuts. But instead of decrying the Common Core as an unfunded mandate, Washoe built upon a new, teacher-created professional development model and reallocated resources to support standards implementation starting in 2011–12.
Senate Bill 1, passed in 2009, required the Kentucky Department of Education and districts throughout the state to revise academic standards to better reflect college- and career-readiness expectations for students (leading to Kentucky’s early, first-in-the-nation adoption of the Common Core) and to create and implement a more rigorous system of assessments and accountability structures.
Still, district leaders report that they often find themselves leading discussions within state-sponsored networks of districts, rather than learning new Common Core content or practices themselves.
These four districts differ in many important ways, but what they share are thoughtful and encouraging approaches to Common Core implementation, bridging the sizable distance from state policy to actual classroom practice. In each, smart accountability practices and targeted professional development have increased teacher ownership of standards implementation and helped educators to align their instruction and curricular materials with the Common Core.