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Four Questions About Common-Core Implementation

With the Common Core push in full swing, a bunch of intriguing issues are about to start cropping up. While much popular press coverage has justifiably focused on the political debates, and the trade press (especially Ed Week's invaluable Catherine Gewertz) has considered what this all means for instructional practice in schools, some crucial but less visible rubber-meets-road questions have pretty much gotten lost. Here are four big implementation questions that haven't yet gotten much attention in state and local papers, and that would benefit from a serious look:

One, this year a slew of states will be telling teachers to focus on teaching the Common Core reading and math standards but evaluating schools and teachers based on assessments geared to their old standards. Is this a problem? How much does it matter? If the Common Core standards really are substantially different from the old standards (and tests), then it ought to matter a lot. Will some educators who do as they've been asked wind up getting slammed for it?

Two, even in some of the states with the most built-out tech infrastructure, fewer than half the schools are ready to administer the Common Core assessments. What's the likelihood that states are going to make the requisite strides between now and spring 2015? If they're not ready, will states have some students take the assessments on paper and some on devices (and on multiple kinds of devices, at that)? If so, how severe will the concerns be about reliability and validity when it comes to comparing outcomes? What can researchers tell us about the impact of assessing students on a hodge-podge of platforms?

Three, my AEI colleague Mike McShane has noted that an Amazon search yields more than 30,000 results, many of those claiming to be Common Core-aligned. How schools or systems are supposed to make sense of that is far from clear. Currently, no one can really tell which texts or resources are actually aligned to the Common Core, much less which ones are high-quality. I hosted a small gathering that included several prominent supes earlier this year; off the record, just about all conceded they were unsure how to move on this front. Who's going to help districts sort through all this or decide what constitutes alignment? (By the way, if a national outfit takes the lead, note that we're suddenly looking at a de facto national standard for materials.)

Four, what actually changes in schools of education and teacher preparation? After all, proponents readily concede that standards and assessments themselves don't do anything to improve teaching and learning -- they merely create the opportunity to do so. The real lift on changing practice will take place in schools of education and professional development. So what's happening? Confident that they're already doing a good job, no matter the uninformed criticism from the cheap seats, ed schools have shown an uncanny ability to surf the reform waves without really changing. So, what has changed in professional development or teacher induction? Are districts using new providers, or what have the old providers changed -- other than their talking points and their slide titles? What specifically has changed in courses, instruction, or mentoring programs in schools of education?

I'd love to see the education press dig into any of these. On each, there will be vital and varied stories across communities and states.

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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