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States Hold the Key to Core Standards Implementation

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Findings from a survey of state education agencies published Jan. 6 by the Center on Education Policy reveal that states may undercut their own implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

On the one hand, states say they adopted the standards because of their "rigor" and "potential to guide statewide education improvement." However, states are also "expecting, rather than requiring, districts to...make complementary changes in curriculum and teacher programs." Districts may or may not develop new curricula, materials, and instructional practices, provide relevant professional development, and implement standards-related teacher induction programs and evaluations.

Maybe state education agencies deserve some sympathy. Local school officials frequently deride them for being heavy-handed and intrusive. Sometimes that is true, but sometimes when school districts want to fend off complaints from disgruntled educators or parents, they use their state department of education as a convenient scapegoat: "The state requires us to do it..."

If one thing is certain in efforts to improve student performance, it is that courageous leadership is necessary from each level of school governance--local, state, and federal. Adopting the Common Core State Standards is an important step, but that is not enough. States have been down this road many, many times in the past. They know that when school districts are left to choose for themselves whether to take difficult steps to improve education, some will not do so. Often, these are districts with persistent records of low performance, and many students from low-income families.

The Common Core State Standards will not have the impact state education agencies want unless states do four things: (1) require school districts to take actions that states know are essential for effective standards implementation; (2) provide high quality and sustained technical assistance to support districts' implementation of the standards; (3) monitor and assess standards implementation in each school district; and (4) publicly report the status and results of districts' standards implementation during each of the next five years.

The Common Core State Standards are not stand-alone reform. They are simply statements that describe what students should know and be able to do as a result of their public education. The standards are a challenging vision, but that is all they are. Without more effective curricula, professional development, and instruction, students will not develop the knowledge and skills necessary to perform at standard. State education agencies know this, and they should not leave it to school districts to decide for themselves whether they will "make complementary changes" that will determine whether the standards facilitate improved student performance, or frustrate it.

Hayes Mizell
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Learning Forward

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