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Common-Core Rollout in Big Cities Probed in New Report

Many large urban districts expect to fully implement the Common Core State Standards by the 2014-15 school year, according to a new report that offers a closer look at how the standards are playing out in major urban centers. Districts also report that elementary students are being exposed sooner to the new standards for English/language arts and mathematics than those at the middle and high school level.

Thirty-six urban school systems responded last year to a survey conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools. My colleague Jackie Zubrzycki blogged yesterday about the new report over District Dossier, but I wanted to dive into some of the findings here.

First, at the big-picture level, 87 percent of districts said they would achieve full implementation (whatever that really means) in 2014-15, with all but one to be ready a year later. (The report does not name names on specific questions, though the 36 responding districts span the nation, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, Providence, and Broward County, to name a few.) One-quarter said they expected to reach full implementation this school year. Rollout appears to be roughly the same between math and English/language arts.

As we've reported before, some urban systems are heeding the so-called "publishers' criteria" developed for the English standards. Forty-one percent said yes to a question on that. And about half of the districts, 53 percent, said they have not pursued "any new textbook purchasing opportunities" since adoption. (Math criteria were issued last summer, and apparently were not included in the survey.)

About two-thirds of districts say that between 61 percent and 100 percent of central-office curriculum staff have sufficient knowledge of the common core to discuss the implications to classroom instruction. (Of course, the flip side is that apparently one-third of districts have some work to do.)

The survey was conducted from June to October 2012. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing financial support for the council's work on common-core activities, including this report. (Gates also supports EdWeek's coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation.)

Teacher Training

The report provides a window into the professional development priorities of urban districts in the common-core era. As many readers are keenly aware, effective PD is widely seen as one of the biggest challenges for states and districts to ensure the standards are implemented wisely and with fidelity across classrooms.

For English, the most common activities cited were:

• Building a shared understanding of the common core among staff;
• Using rich informational texts to build background knowledge;
• Building students' academic vocabulary; and
• Teaching complex text using close reading analysis.

Least emphasized? Integrating technology into the classroom, linking writing across content areas, and differentiating instruction for students with disabilities.

For math, the top PD topics were:

• Building a shared understanding of the common core among staff;
• Building students' deep understanding of math concepts;
• Understanding learning progressions across grade levels; and
• Helping students apply math concepts to real-world situations.

A majority of districts, 55 percent and 58 percent respectively for English and math, had already conducted an alignment study in 2012 on the district's existing curriculum, with about one-third more still working on that.

Meanwhile, 29 percent of respondents reported that their district has developed interim assessments aligned with the common core, while 55 percent were in the midst of doing so.

"Effectively implementing the new standards is among the highest priorities in urban schools today," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, in a press release.

It would be interesting to know how the pace of implementation compares in suburban and rural districts. That said, it may well be that such differences are more apparent across state lines. Also, what the new report does not reveal is what early implementation looks like in classrooms so far. That's the big question lots of people are wondering about.

But there's still time. In fact, this the first in a multiyear analysis of implementation trends among the Council of the Great City Schools' member districts.

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