Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Common Core Standards Are Useless Without Action

The Common Core State Standards offer the perfect case study in misplaced expectations. The school standards that 46 states are implementing have been billed by advocates as the answer to the country's K-12 ills and by critics as the beginning of federalized schools. In truth, they are merely a set of benchmarks put together by well-meaning people who may or may not have accurately pinpointed the areas where students and teachers need the most help.
To actually offer that help, roll up your sleeves and start working. That's what the Carnegie Corporation of New York says in a new report arguing that the standards alone cannot drive real change in schools.
High school students will be the most vulnerable during the transition because the standards are higher but the students have not had the benefit of the reworked curriculum in the lower grades. "It's not just a few schools here and there that need to be really, really good at catching students up," said Leah Hamilton, one of the report's authors. "We need many, many schools that are good at catching people up. In order to do that, that requires pretty significant change in how schools are organized."
The answer, from Carnegie's perspective, is radical school redesign. The report recommends personalized learning and sophisticated use of student data and assessments--pretty far from the current, low-tech classroom approach in most high schools. Not coincidentally, the foundation is also looking for individual school districts where it will finance such restructuring in the next school year.
Carnegie sees Common Core as a catalyst for change in education and hopes, through its grant program, to open the door for a completely different way of thinking about schools. The foundation is also concerned that without bold action, the new standards will amount to nothing more than another check-the-box task.
They are not alone. Two education activists--EdLeader21 CEO Ken Kay and Envision Education CEO Bob Lenz--last week wrote about the diverging paths for the Common Core implementation in an op-ed. One path is a "compliance-driven exercise," the authors said. That would be nonproductive at best.
"The second path leverages the strengths of the common core to transform teaching and learning. It entails educators' taking the time to understand what is visionary about these new standards and how they can help drive college and career success for students," the op-ed authors said.
Understanding the vision.Transforming teaching. Radical redesign. These are not easy tasks. They require commitment, resources, and the willingness to experiment. They are the underpinnings of the Common Core. It's just not clear the effort will succeed.
Are the Common Core standards necessary to provoke radical change? Are they enough? Is radical change needed? If so, where is it needed? Is personalized curricula the way to go? What role does technology play in implementing the Common Core? Is Carnegie right to focus first on high schools? Is it possible for educators to take the time they need to understand the new standards without impeding implementation?

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