Taking the Long View on Common Core
Many states approach the work of implementing the Common Core State Standards from the perspective that the change will be complete the year new assessments are launched. While this is certainly a significant point on the implementation timeline, the transition to CCSS will be far from over when it occurs.
After more than a decade of standards-based reform in education, student achievement continues to lag. Given that Common Core Standards are significantly more rigorous than previous editions of student content standards, approaching implementation of CCSS with a light-switch change approach versus a long-term change approach may be inappropriate.
Light-switch changes are carefully orchestrated and designed, and occur with the flip of a switch. Light-switch change is frequently used for technical changes where the problem, solution, and means to implementation are clearly defined. In these circumstances, experts prepare for the change in advance of the established time set for flipping the switch.
Long-term, adaptive change requires learning and adaptation, typically over a long period of time, because the problem, solution, and means to implementation are unclear and frequently evolve and mutate with progress toward the goal.
Implementing Common Core is an adaptive change. Treating it as a technical change is likely to diminish the necessary learning and adaptation required to achieve full implementation of the standards and college- and career-readiness for every student.
As more classrooms implement the standards and their requisite instructional practices, educators must remain open to analyzing those practices, inquiring about and methodically investigating which work best with which students, with which content, and in which context. They must use the findings to expand the collective knowledge base about teaching and learning more complex content and cognitive processes.
Some educators expect that the year of introduction of new assessments will be the period for the lights to be switched on. All classrooms will instantaneously become classrooms in which full and deep implementation of the standards occurs. Some education leaders plan for this moment, and few see beyond.
The history of changes in standards and assessments reminds us that the switch over is not likely to produce the results we expect in the short- and perhaps long-term. Implementing Common Core Standards requires a long view, one that extends out at least a decade or more. Planning for implementation must include rigorous, ongoing assessment of how each action contributes to the goal of every student being college and career ready. It must include regularly scheduled opportunities, at least annually, to redefine the problem, solutions, and implementation strategies based on data. It requires that the plan not constrain adaptations that are needed to achieve results in circumstances with unique needs. Most importantly, it requires increased focus on professional learning among those responsible for implementing the change using collaborative processes that include purposeful planning for student learning; disciplined inquiry; reflective analysis of practice using data; and intentional learning to expand knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions.
Educators cannot turn on Common Core State Standards by design or desire. Only through long-term, committed practice informed by professional learning will they move more deliberately toward the goal of every student college and career ready.
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward