My computer this morning presented me with two reports on meetings yesterday related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards, one in Beaverton and two in Washington,DC. It got me thinking about which meeting would be most likely to lead to fulfilling the promise of the Common Core?
In the Washington meetings, two major gatherings of business leadership met to discuss and to express their support for the Common Core State Standards.
At a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce entitled “Connecting the Dots: Education, Policy, Workforce,” participants heard from executives from Cisco Systems, ExxonMobil, and Intel, along with former US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, about the importance of student transition to the workforce and maintaining competitive standing in the global economy. In addition, at a meeting yesterday of the Business Roundtable, Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan urged their continued support for the Common Core for the same reasons.
Sound familiar? It should. This is the same message that, then, Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, gave to the newly formed National Commission on Excellence in Education in 1981. Two years later, in April, 1983, the Commission published its landmark report, A Nation at Risk (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED226006.pdf). The findings of the Commission were that curriculum standards were too low; that state requirements were generally not aligned with college-ready expectations, that American schools expected far less of its students in terms of time and curriculum rigor than other countries, and that teacher preparation was not rigorous enough.
This set off an enormous array of educational reforms that still frame our discussions of schools 32 years later. President George H.W. Bush established the National Goals Panel in 1989 in collaboration with the National Governors Association. That panel recommended a set of national goals, known as the Goals 2000 Report, that included the following:
By the Year 2000
- All children in America will start school ready to learn.
- The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
- American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nation’s modern economy.
- The Nation’s teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.
- U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.
- Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
- Every school in America will be free of drugs, violence and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
- Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.
In 1994, under President Clinton, the work of the National Goals Panel was incorporated into federal law in Goals 2000: Educate America Act. (http://www2.ed.gov/legislation/GOALS2000/TheAct/index.html) These goals were eventually rolled into the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, labeled the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been followed by over a decade of focus on state standards, assessments, mandatory consequences, and district and school improvement strategies. In the most recentlongitudinal analysis of American student performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the only consistent state-to-state assessment using a common method, some narrowing of the achievement gap has been achieved between 1971 and 2012. However, average reading and mathematics scores in 2012 for 17-year-olds were not significantly different from scores in the first assessment year. (http://nationsreportcard.gov/ltt_2012/). Have our strategies generated improvement of results?
So, it strikes me as appropriate to consider the response of Beaverton parents last night at a public meeting with Beaverton District leadership on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
Beaverton and many other districts in Oregon are to be applauded for bringing this conversation to the community. According to the article, there were many questions from parents about the implications of the switch to Common Core State Standards, how they would be measured, and what happens in schools as a result of their implementation. Ultimately, parents want to know if these changes will help their children. If, after 32 years of work and investments of millions of dollars, we have not achieved a goal identified in 1981; what will be different this time?
Beaverton’s example last night is one positive step in the right direction: engage the local community. Reflecting on changes in Oregon made in 1991, for example, with passage of the Oregon Education Act for the 21st Century, it is a fair question to consider how well local communities ever really understood the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) or the Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM), even though these changes were based upon the best educational analysis and innovative thinking at the time. Oregon received international recognition for its innovative strategies. However, without a properly funded implementation strategy and an engagement plan down to the local school level, the implementation of these innovations varied significantly from school-to-school and district-to-district, and, eventually, lost public and political support.
Likewise, since 2002, Oregon and the nation have engaged in the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act with strategies that have not always been engaging or understandable to parents and communities. Anyone care to describe how “Adequate Yearly Progress” is calculated? It is likely that the most easily recognized component of NCLB has been the expanded use of student testing and the publication of ratings of schools. The intent was to create high standards and expectations for all children, to focus on quality instruction and success for all students, to use assessment to monitor progress and to identify schools where additional assistance might be needed. The reality has been quite different. Many teachers and parents consider the data on their school to not tell the full story of what they are accomplishing. Local schools and districts feel they have never received the resources they need to accomplish the objectives. Communities of color question whether anything has really changed when the achievement gap remains large, drop out rates remain high and reaching a 40-40-20 goal by 2025 seems a distant dream.
So, which meeting yesterday is likely to lead to successfully improving school outcomes? What happened in Beaverton may be the more important in ensuring that an innovation like the Common Core State Standards actually has a positive impact. Researchers like Bryk (1), Hargreaves and Fullan (2), and Leana (3) have written on the importance of building social capital, collaboration among teachers and engagement of the community at the local level as “the Missing Link” in school reform. Have we created conditions that are supportive of change, starting with the level of understanding of teachers, parents and community members of what we are trying to accomplish and why? Have we provided a realistic level of support to accomplish these objectives, including reasonable class sizes and support for professional development? Can we use data to actually inform our practices and not punish our professionals, and create understandable and useful information for parents and teachers to help students? Can we accept the idea that changing outcomes for all students may mean that local practices must adapt to the needs of students of different cultures, races and languages?
Put simply, implementation of a reform, such as, the Common Core State Standards, must ultimately be played out at the classroom and school level. Which meeting, Beaverton or Washington, DC, would I want to attend if I wanted to focus on making it work? I’ll pick the Beaverton meeting every time. School reform may have seemed remote and abstract in Washington at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or at the Business Roundtable. It was very concrete and engaging at Errol Hassell Elementary School in Beaverton last night. The key to success this time may be having more conversations like Beaverton’s and looking at implementation through a lens of local schools and classrooms.
1. Bryk, Anthony S., et al, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010.
2. Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M., Professional Capital: Transforming teaching in every school, Teachers College Press, New York, 2012.
3. Leana, C.R., (2011, fall), The Missing Link in School Reform, Stanford Social Innovation Review.