Thursday, February 27, 2014

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers

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:
  1. Teachers and principals are the primary faces and voices of the Common Core standards in their communities
  2. 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
  3. In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving—with mixed success—to devise their own
  4. 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
  5. The lack of aligned assessments will make effective implementation of the Common Core challenging for another year
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.

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.
Progress in Kenton County has been spurred by several factors: Kentucky’s adoption of reform legislation related to its college- and career-ready standards (i.e., CCSS); the state commissioner of education’s outspoken public support of the Common Core; the development and administration of the state’s aligned summative assessment; and revamped district- and school-level report cards.

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.

The Kenton County school district offers an encouraging look into the future for many districts embarking on the Common Core path: now in their fourth year of implementing the standards, teachers in the district describe the new standards as the basis for all their instruction. They are both supported in and held accountable for delivering instruction that reflects the Common Core shifts through significant investment in coaching, instructional leadership, and classroom observation tools. Even four years in, however, Kenton County is still contending with knotty implementation challenges. These include balancing new teacher evaluation requirements with formative feedback on instruction  and ensuring that all teachers—especially those in the elementary grades—have sufficient access to a Common Core-aligned curriculum.

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.


Anonymous said...

These screen shots of the curriculum forms remind me of the KIRIS ones we got...or was it the KY curriculum documents 2.1....or was it KY curriculm alignemtn documents 3.2... or was it the depth of knowledge charts...CATS cross walk documents...? I don't know, they all seem to pretty much look like the same to me these last couple of decades.

Anonymous said...

R: Anon. February 28

Great point!

What is new? Does seem to sound like early 1990's KERA stuff

Richard Day said...

March 3, 2014 at 12:21 PM: Hold on. There are certainly similarities any time a school reform effort is underway. But there are stark differences between what is going on now and KERA's implementation. KERA was about the legislature being reminded by the court that they were in charge of the schools. So they responded with an overhaul. There was no curriculum (only a broad outline called Transformations that you couldn't teach from) for a handful of years. But the lack of a curriculum did not stop the state from imposing high-stakes assessments. Senate Bill 1 mandated a new test based on a new curriculum, and one can argue for or against the curriculum standards, but there is a curriculum. As a reform, SB1 pales in comparison. The new thing with SB1 is the state's attempt to construct a P-20 state school system.

Anonymous said...

My point wasn't whether the current version of our curriculum is directly or indirectly the result of legislature or KDE. I just find it frustrating that we continue to alter both assessment and curriculum time and time again over the last 20 years, like some group of chefs who continue to add ingredients only to have other cooks dilute the mixture in order to add their own receipt of spices, all the time never really tasting to see if it is any good.

Of course the argument is always going to be that the previous instrument or curriculum document was inferior to the one advanced by leadership currently at the helm. We haven't even gotten KPREP in place and already we are looking for substitutes for EXPLORE and PLAN - Well there goes 2 -3 more years of non alignable trend data. Who knows where program reviews are going to go in the next 3 - 5 years. Equally, I listen to superintendents and DPP folks talk about PGES system beyond the public ear and hear a chorus of concern that we are creating multiple deadlines and documentation hoops to jump which a principal isn't going to have time to do for dozens of teacher each year - result more opportunity for inferior teachers to find loopholes to use in avoiding termination.

Just seems like each administration, be it KDE or governmental, feels the need to "fix" us without even giving us the chance to see what we have done under the preceeding operational parameters.

Richard Day said...

Well, in this case the curriculum argument is that there wasn’t one for the first several years under KERA.

Senate Bill 1 began as an effort to dump the CATS test by those opposed to writing portfolios.

When the KEA jumped ship and Republicans got the numbers they needed to pass a bill, Dems got on board. The state chiefs along with the K groups, Sexton and others, helped design the new and broader law which was ultimately passed.

The Dems turned defeat into a kumbaya moment and acted like SB1 was their idea. To be fair, it turned out to be a moderate form of corporate Ed reform. All of the curriculum standards, testing, teacher evaluation…None of the money for critical teacher training, and thankfully no charters, which I am not sure are constitutional in Kentucky, and no vouchers, which I’m pretty certain are not.

The only reason Kentucky is considering a change away from EXPLORE and PLAN is that ACT is discontinuing the tests in favor of their new product, ASPIRE. We have not been big fans of EXPLORE and PLAN around here mostly because Skip questions the way they were modeled and says something to the effect that their benchmarks are crap. To what degree ASPIRE will attend to the Common Core and college readiness benchmarks, I don’t know.

PGES scares me to death. I either fear it will become an unfair system or one that is so burdensome to implement that it will fall from its own weight.
I feel what you are saying, but it’s not clear that you have accurately located the source of your frustration. There is no single steady hand on the wheel of Kentucky school reform.

Anonymous said...

You are right, I can't point out a particular element to hang my hat of frastration on as an educator, too many hooks for me to choose. I agree no consistency of leadership makes for rambling reform. I do see a lot of files and binders in my possesison though with different curriculum and assessment info from the past couple of decades plus. Maybe I should just do like a new legislator or ed leader and pitch them for whatever is in vogue at the time.