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Will Common Core State Standards Accelerate or Slow Innovation?

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Some friends are working on a paper on the topic of common standards and innovation. The primary question is how and whether the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will accelerate or slow innovation. The answer is that common standards are a big boon to innovation for four reasons:

1. CCSS and the shift to digital are coincident and complementary . Online assessment of the CCSS will respond for the need for better and cheaper assessments and will, in turn, accelerate shift to digital. First generation online assessment starting in 2015 will be step function improvement in most states. Administration of online assessments is one more reason for schools and districts to boost student access to technology and that will push thousands of schools to develop or adopt innovative blended models

2. CCSS are producing in big investment in digital content. I've suggested that common standards are like the iPhone for Edu, have brought up the rear in 30 states with low standards and launched an avalanche of innovation, including adaptive learning platforms like i-Ready and fully-digital, Common Core-aligned curriculums like the Pearson 1:1 launched at Huntsville in August.

The Compass Learning team added, "Just in the past 12 months, the team has developed and released hundreds of new learning activities, quizzes, and writing prompts to address the deeper, more rigorous Common Core State Standards."

Foundations are making a big investment in innovative CCSS content including EduCurious, Khan Academy, ST Math, and MadCap.

MasteryConnect and LearnZillion are some of the scrappy startups banking on CCSS (as noted in a review of Bob Rothman's Common Core book). Every week we see new engaging Common Core-aligned content, apps, and platforms -- including lots of open educational resources (OER). The improved ability to share resources across state lines is a huge benefit.

3. Data standards will help. Common tagging strategies and data protocols will power new apps. As Frank Catalano's recent blog pointed out, it's still pretty confusing how all the data initiatives fit together (or don't).

The Shared Learning Collaborative announced a new CEO yesterday.Iwan Streichenberger will lead the rollout of SLC technology to pilot districts next year.

In a recent paper DLN paper "Data Backpacks," my co-authors and I argued that a thick gradebook of data should follow a student from grade to grade and school to school. The SLC will make that data -- and more -- available by teacher query through multiple apps. That kind of plumbing will lead to an ecosystem of innovation.

As several of these ecosystems blossom in the second half of this decade, they will mark the beginning of big data learning -- and that should change everything.

4. Common Core is boosting equity. The most important benefit of the Common Core is real college and career readiness standards for all students. We can finally say that nearly every state is committed to preparing every student for viable life options. That commitment is likely to drive innovations in:

  • Competency-based learning that provides the time for kids that need it and acceleration opportunities for those that are ready
  • Funding that provides more opportunity and support for struggling students; and
  • School models that inspire lots of reading, writing, and problem solving.


Some critics complain about the cost of adoption, but the CCSS will save, not cost billions.

Some critics fear that CCSS and tests will constrict innovation. Anti-testing folks chime in on this one. But common expectations for reading, writing, and problem solving skills will make young people college eligible and give them a shot at family wage employment is not asking too much and leaves plenty of room for innovative school models.

Some critics blame the feds for being too supportive of the CCSS, but Race to the Top (RttT) produced more policy innovation in the six months leading up to the grants than any previous initiative.

There are some CCSS supporters that worry four or five states doing their own thing and six or eight states developing their own tests is a bad thing, but both will prove to be sources of innovation. Test vendors like ACT will continue to push the state testing consortia.

CCSS assessment in 2015 will be the pivotal event of this decade. Adoption of common standards will provide a significant boost to innovations in learning.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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