Policy | Research

Common Core: 7 Recommendations for Effective Implementation

Conflicting reform efforts, poor communications, and "initiative fatigue" are among the factors presenting challenges to Common Core State Standards implementation. In order to overcome these potential barriers, states, districts, and schools need to take new approaches to professional development, technology adoption, and reform efforts, according to a new report released Thursday by ASCD.

The report, "Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards: Moving from Adoption to Implementation to Sustainability," identified challenges and best practices for Common Core implementation and offered recommendations for easing the transition from state to common standards. It was funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Implementation Challenges
Among the challenges, according to the report, are policy issues resulting from the rapid adoption of Common Core State Standards in the midst of other reform efforts. Several states, for example, have created teacher effectiveness policies that conflict with the transition to Common Core standards because they tie teacher evaluations to student outcomes on standardized tests that are aligned with state-specific standards, rather than the new standards.

"Educators are unclear about where to focus their instructional efforts, and many school leaders are overwhelmed by trying to lead multiple, major reform efforts and uncertain about where to direct professional development. Furthermore, the simultaneous reforms have exceeded the capacity of most state and local education agencies, compromising educators' ability to best implement any reform." according to the report.

"Rapid adoption of the Common Core standards has outstripped both professional and public understanding of the standards and their potential for changing the learning and teaching paradigm," commented ASCD Executive Director Gene R. Carter int he report. "It is essential that district and school leaders have the opportunity to learn about the standards and raise questions that will help guide their transition, implementation, and communication strategies."

As a consequence, the report's authors argued, teachers are "charging ahead" with their own inadequately informed approaches to blending state and common standards, such as the "crosswalk approach," in which educators try to correlate verbiage in the Common Core standards with their own state standards to determine whether the standard has been taught. However, according to the report, this approach "fails to adequately capture the level of content mastery, rigor, and depth of change necessary to meet the expectations of college and career readiness in the Common Core standards."

Aside from issues related to rapid adoption of the standards, the report identified several other challenges affecting implementation:

  • Ongoing budget crises at the state and local level;
  • The misconception that the Common Core State Standards are federal standards;
  • Initiative fatigue on the part of teachers in the midst of simultaneous and sometimes conflicting educational policy shifts;
  • The need to modify teacher preparation programs;
  • The need for colleges and universities to adapt their admissions practices based on the changes happening at the K-12 level; and
  • Communications between state agencies and educators.

Educators themselves also identified several concerns, including the need for:

  • Information about how Common Core implementation will affect policies governing their careers and teaching practices;
  • Access to model lessons, resources, and professional development;
  • Time for planning; and
  • Information about Common Core assessments and the technologies that will be required to implement them.

Recommendations
The report's authors made several key recommendations for successful Common Core State Standards implementations, including the need for school leaders to ensure that educators have a "deep" understanding of the new standards and, in particular, the "key instructional shifts required within them."

"A thorough understanding of the instructional shifts forms a strong foundation for delivering instruction aligned to the higher expectations of the Common Core standards," according to the report. "The sooner educators are aware of and understand the shifts, the more smoothly implementation will progress."

Other recommendations included:

  • Educators must have a say in their own professional development.
  • Principals must become instructional leaders.
  • Instructional resources must be vetted for quality and alignment with the new standards.
  • Communication between higher education and K-12 must be "open and continuous. SEAs and school districts will need to engage with local higher-education institutions and major feeder programs of their teacher workforce to make sure that they are meeting the school systems' needs."
  • Technology adoption should focus on teaching and learning.
  • Disparate initiatives need to be aligned into "comprehensive" reforms. "The numerous reforms are distracting schools and classroom teachers from their core mission of graduating students who are ready for college and careers."

The complete 48-page report, "Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards: Moving from Adoption to Implementation to Sustainability," includes an executive summary, survey data, and spotlights on individual states. It's freely available in PDF form on ASCD's EduCore site.

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