Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow Greg Mullenholz answers teachers’ burning questions about education policy. In this issue, he takes up the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
Teacher Question: What is the Common Core of State Standards? Is it a US Department of Education Program?
Mr. Mullenholz (Mr. M): The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is a state-led effort that is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices that strives to create rigorous, clear and consistent academic standards. It is not a federal government program and is in no way a part of the No Child Left Behind Act or any other federal education law.
The standards were developed in collaboration with a large number of stakeholders, including teachers. They are designed to prepare America’s students for college and the workforce and are driven by a thorough research base and international benchmarking. The standards, like those called for in the Obama Administration’s plan, call for attention to both rich content and rigorous processes. Many people believe that the development of the CCSS was a direct result of the Obama Administration’s rolling out of its Blueprint for Reform, when, in fact, the CCSS were being developed to the Blueprint’s release. While the U.S. Department does call for rigorous college- and career-ready standards in its Blueprint for Reform, and subsequently in its ESEA Flexibility package, adoption of the CCSS by a state is not a requirement in the Blueprint or for regulatory relief.
Teacher: What about states that don’t adopt the CCSS? How can they prove that they have college and career ready expectations?
Mr. M: As of publication of this edition of the newsletter, 45 states, District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have formally adopted the CCSS, with Minnesota having preliminarily adopted the English-Language Arts standards. Under the Blueprint, states that have not adopted the Common Core State Standards would be asked to develop, or, in conjunction with their four-year public university system, upgrade their current standards in English language arts and mathematics to ensure that by the time that students graduate from high school, they are prepared for college and career.
Teacher: Is my state eligible for grants and/or regulatory relief if it hasn’t adopted the CCSS?
Mr. M: Yes. ESEA Flexibility is not dependent upon specific adoption of the Common Core State Standards. Similarly, Race to the Top does not require that states specifically adopt the common core. Rather, securing this type of regulatory flexibility is dependent upon a state showing that they are creating or upgrading standards to ensure that all students regardless of race, ethnicity, English proficiency or disability status are being prepared for colleges and careers – not with watered-down and prescriptive curricula that were developed under the auspices of NCLB.
Teacher: Who has the primary responsibility for implementing the Common Core and when will this implementation happen?
Mr. M: The federal government has no role in the development of the CCSS and will also have no role in its implementation. The federal government can play a role in providing technical assistance and financial support and incentives to states in order that states create a more rigorous accountability system that matches the expectations of these standards. The federal government has positioned itself as a partner in reform and has, and will continue to, aid states and local districts, who are primarily responsible for curriculum implementation, in support of their creation of rigorous teacher and principal professional development, as well as serve in a research capacity. Timelines for implementation vary by state and if you are a teacher in one of the adopting states, you should search your department of education’s website for the latest updates.
Teacher: How will students be assessed according to the Common Core and other College- and Career-ready standards?
Mr. M: CCSSO and NGA are not developing assessments that tie to the Common Core, and neither is the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education is positioning itself as a partner in reform. ED realizes the importance of ongoing and meaningful feedback to teachers. To that end, as part of the Race to the Top funds, they have awarded grants totaling $330 million dollars to two consortia who will be developing the next generation of high-quality assessments that are aligned to college- and career-ready standards, and will begin by testing students’ knowledge of mathematics and English language arts from third grade through high school. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) have been voluntarily joined by a majority of U.S. states, with some states, like Alabama, officially joining one consortia, and serving as an advisor to the other. The differences between the two are that PARCC will replace one end-of-year assessment with a series of assessments throughout the year that provide valuable, instructionally relevant information to teachers and students. SBAC will use computer technology to individually tailor assessments based on their previous answer. While SBAC will still rely on one end-of-year assessment for the sake of accountability, it will use interim assessments to provide meaningful, directive feedback to teachers, students, and parents.
Teacher: What is the teacher’s role in the implementation of the CCSS? How will teachers better prepare to implement college- and career-ready standards?
Mr. M: Teachers will do what they do best. They will continue to employ their high quality teaching practices. The CCSS establish what students need to learn, but not how they are to be taught. That portion of implementation is left to the practitioner, the teacher. Ultimately, the goal of the CCSS or any college- and career-ready standards is to prepare our students for success in college and career. To do this, teachers will have to participate in professional development about the implementation of the higher-quality standards. This responsibility will not fall solely on current teachers, however, as teacher preparation programs will have to realign their instructional models to ensure that their graduates are of the highest-quality and that they are prepared to teach the content and processes inherent in high-quality, college- and career-ready academic standards. The Obama Administration has made this a priority as they have rolled out their teacher preparation reforms, entitled Our Future, Our Teachers.