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District Leaders Mostly Back Common Core, But Troubled by Implementation

By guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa. Cross-posted from State EdWatch.

A survey of more than 500 district superintendents and administrators from 48 states shows that most of the local K-12 leaders are firmly behind the Common Core State Standards. But it also finds general sentiment that the standards are being implemented too quickly, that strict accountability based on the standards needs to slow down, and that there's insufficient support to make sure the transition to the standards goes well.

The survey, released June 3 by the American Association of School Administrators, also reveals that local administrators, teachers, principals and other staff working in high-poverty districts feel generally less prepared to implement the standards than their counterparts in low-poverty districts.

If the tone of the survey results sound somewhat familiar, you may recall that last July, Gallup released a poll of superintendents regarding the common core and its potential impact on schools. In that survey, while most district leaders (58 percent) said the standards would improve the quality of education, some were dubious about its ultimate effect on student learning, and many worried about the lack of support for implementing the standards from higher up the food chain. 

The AASA survey finds that 93 percent of the superintendents say the new standards are more rigorous and will better prepare students for success after high school. In all, 78 percent of those surveyed believe the education community specifically supports the standards. The findings also show a high degree of involvement among district leaders, principals, and teachers in getting ready for the common core—80 percent of respondents reported that their teachers are prepared for the standards, for example.

But in an interview, AASA President Dan Domenech expressed particular concern about the common-core assessments and how they will impact student, teacher, and school accountability. (In contrast to the standards themselves, 47 percent of the superintendents surveyed say the education community supports the aligned assessments, the AASA reports.)

Policymakers and other common-core supporters should support a "pause" or some kind of chance for schools to catch their breath before they use the accountability system they ultimately imagine taking shape under common core, Domenech said. Without that, Domenech argued, districts' support for the common core will erode.

"We're not saying we don't want them," he said of the standards. "We're saying we do want them. We're saying, you're going to kill what we want."

The AASA has been preaching this message of a slowdown in accountability for several years, Domenech noted, adding that he's beginning to get quite frustrated by the lack of response from those in power.

When asked about resources, the responses from those surveyed is mixed: 57 percent say state support for professional development has been inadequate, and 59 percent say the same for curriculum resources.

Here are a couple of other notable findings:

• As you might expect, local administrators take a pretty sour view of the politics surrounding the common core. In fact, 73 percent of those surveyed by AASA believe that the fight between supporters and opponents is actually hindering implementation of the standards, and that this problem "mostly stems from misunderstanding and misinformation, especially of the relationship between the standards and testing."

• There's an interesting split in how prepared high-poverty districts feel concerning the common core, compared to their low-poverty counterparts. In terms of how administrators view their teachers' preparedness, there's not a huge gap— 28 percent of those surveyed in low-poverty districts say their teachers are "very prepared," compared to 22 percent of those in high-poverty districts. (Administrators could also respond "somewhat prepared" or "not very prepared.") That preparedness gap grows to 11 percent when it comes to principals (40 percent from low-poverty districts report being "very prepared," compared with 29 percent from high-poverty districts.) And the gap jumps to 25 percent for curriculum staff (66 percent and 41 percent, respectively).

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