Let the Common Core State Standards be Common

Let the Common Core State Standards be CommonThey say politics makes for strange bedfellows. It seems the Common Core State Standards do as well. The initiative was led by a coalition of the nation’s governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), together with teachers, researchers, parents, school administrators and experts from across the country. The goal? To define a new set of national learning standards.

Our Academic Services team was asked to do an early evaluation of the standards and as an organization, NWEA supports the good intentions, transparency, and high academic rigor that went into the creation of the standards.

Yet now they have become embattled as implementation proceeds.

A few data points highlight the current state of affairs:

– We saw in New York state (and earlier in Kentucky) that rising standards can mean a corresponding drop in state summative test scores, as  students adjust to new tests and new standards and teachers get professional development on the standards.

-AFT & union leaders in New York have called for a moratorium on using Common Core-aligned tests to evaluate schools, students or teachers for three years.

– Opinion leaders like Diane Ravitch join politicians including Marco Rubio in not supporting the standards.

– NEA and the Chamber of Commerce are both actively supporting the new standards.

– Jeb Bush reiterated support for the standards despite the characterization of them as a federalization of education, and in the Wall Street Journal, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s op-ed discussed the standards as a competitive differentiator for the states that have adopted them.

It’s safe to say that emotions are running high – so maybe it’s a good time to step back and look at what the standards are – and are not – and find a way forward in the support of higher achievement for all students.

The standards are simply that – a set of guidelines that schools and educators can use to sequence instruction so that all students graduate prepared “to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce,” says the FAQ at CoreStandards.org. The standards are not a national curriculum. They are the what – what students need to learn. Teachers and administrators in each district will determine how the standards come to life in the classroom. In this regard, they are no different from current state standards.

How do we move forward in this climate? If we return to the enduring focus of education – ensuring that students learn – we can find common ground. Most of us would agree that student learning is a central value of our nation. We also believe that kids rise to the expectations their parents and teachers set for them. Yet many students do not necessarily enter a grade performing at grade level, and with higher standards, more students may need support to reach new goals.

So if we agree that students need to learn, and that raising expectations in the form of standards is one way to do this, what do we do then? Well, we know from an extensive body of research that the number one influence on student learning is the presence of a highly effective teacher. To be highly effective, teachers need excellent pre-service training, combined with embedded and ongoing professional development and accurate data on student performance to help them differentiate instruction and meet their students’ unique needs.

Rather than doom the Common Core Standards before they get implemented, let’s put the focus where it needs to be: on learning. Let’s make sure that teachers have the tools, professional support and data they need to be successful. Then let’s stay the course and work together thoughtfully – because the real high-stakes, increasing student learning and graduation rates, are too important for us to pass on this difficult work.