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Race to the Top Reports Size Up Progress of Common-Core Implementation

My colleague Michele McNeil has done a great job analyzing new reports from the U.S. Department of Education about states' progress in implementing education policy changes under the Race to the Top competitive grant program during the program's third year. I wanted to take another look at one particular aspect of the feds' Race to the Top status report: common-core implementation in states as things stood through the end of September 2013 (the end of the federal fiscal year).

In its early stages, backlash to the standards came largely if not exclusively from conservatives concerned about federal intrusion into schools. Although those concerns haven't necessarily diminished, a new and more prominent concern about the standards in recent months has been about whether teachers are prepared in various ways, and whether common core will unfairly impact state's testing regimens and evaluations. (This tension was clear at a Washington confab earlier this week where the heads of the AFT and NEA had a rhetorical sumo-wrestling match with state education chiefs over the progress of common core in states.)

Remember, we're reaching the end of the 2013-14 school year, so these reports don't take into account the activity of recent months. Still, they provide a useful window into how strong states' work was throughout much of 2013 and whether states were on a good footing as they approached the current school year. And it's probably not fair to describe states' efforts as entirely "good" or "bad" based on these reports. So what do they show? Taiko drum roll please:

Florida: The feds found some things to like in the Sunshine State, but several things they didn't (pages 12-14). Although the report says the state was "on track" to fully implement the standards for the 2013-14 academic year, "additional supports are needed to ensure educators are supported and that the standards are implemented with fidelity."

Specifically, the department said, school-level training materials and resources were still being introduced to educators, and that the effort would have to continue into March 2015—around the time the state will begin giving the just-announced state assessments from the American Institutes for Research.

In addition, the feds dinged Florida for struggling to implement the "Common Core Student Tutorial" and for missing its goal to have these tutorials, which were targeted to all students and also included "mini assessments," in place for the 2012-13 academic year. 

"Consequently, Florida educators implementing the CCSS [common core] have fewer state level resources than FDOE [the Florida Department of Education] anticipated," the department said.

New York: Perhaps no state has seen the kind of uproar and anger over common-core implementation that the Empire State has. Anger has spanned a variety of issues, including missing curriculum modules aligned to the standards that have been the target of a lot of ire from folks like Michael Mulgrew at the United Federation of Teachers in New York City.

But what's the view of the federal department? There's a number of things they like. In general, the department praised New York for "significant progress" in implementing the standards during the third year of Race to the Top in states. Specifically, the feds said that the state:

• "supported educators, principals, Network Teams, and other stakeholders to provide instruction aligned to the Common Core Learning Standards in grades 3-8 ELA [English/language arts] and mathematics."

• "conducted extensive outreach before, in conjunction with, and following the August 2013 release of State assessment results to build understanding and provide support to teachers, principals, parents, and students about the tests and their results." (Readers may remember, however, the strong negative reaction in many quarters to those common-core aligned test results. So some might scoff at Washington's characterization of that "extensive outreach.")

• to raise awareness of the availability of common-core resources to individual classroom teachers in particular, the state department made sure to highlight¬†"the availability of these resources in regional¬†meetings and other communications from the State."

Those are some examples. To be clear, it's not all rosy in the Empire State from the feds' perspective. For example, the upcoming changes to Engageny.org are expected "to address the need for navigational enhancements to ensure educators are able to locate resources most applicable to their grade, subject, and role." (That's related to the third bullet point.) And the department also reported concerns from special-education teachers about the appropriateness of some of the common-core standards in English/language arts.

Maryland: The department highlighted the state's ongoing training for teachers in the common core through its Educator Effectiveness Academies, and also noted that the state's common-core curriculum resources are broadly available to teachers.

However, there's a problem in the Old Line State: real oversight over the transition in classrooms. Specifically, the department's report says, during the 2012-13 school year, it's unclear whether those curriculum resources were used well.

"Maryland did not have means to assess Maryland Common Core State Curriculum implementation in districts across the State or to identify additional supports needed by districts," according to the department in a two-page summary of the state's Race to the Top progress.

Georgia: The Peach State has been in the news recently because of a (failed) push in the legislature to spike the common core in Georgia. But as far as actually implementing the common core, the federal department seemed generally positive about the state's common core implementation (although it's story with teacher evaluations is less cheery).

Specifically, with the help of educators and folks in higher education, Georgia "developed, released and piloted an additional 800 formative assessment items; made curriculum materials, including units and lesson plans, for every subject and grade, and 18,000 digital resources, available on the State's data system; and, provided standards transition training to over 750 teachers in ELA and over 1,200 teachers in math," the department said in another two-page summary.

Washington also praised Georgia for incentivizing teachers who created "innovative and effectives strategies" for teaching the common core with $2,000 individual teacher stipends and $5,000 school stipends.

For those who are loaded for duck and want to go further into the Race to the Top weeds on common core, you can visit the department's main page with all the states' progress reports.

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