School & District Management

Most Common-Standards Changes Several Years Away, Report Finds

By Catherine Gewertz — January 06, 2011 2 min read
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Remember the big wave of common-standards adoptions last year? In the span of just nine months, 43 states and the District of Columbia substituted one shared set of academic standards for their own. Now they face a much tougher job: translating those ideas into instruction.

Unsurprisingly, states are saying it’s going to take a while. In a survey out today, they told the Center on Education Policy that they plan to change curriculum, assessment, and teacher evaluation and certification, but that it will take at least two years to do so. Professional development was the only planned change with a shorter timeline; States said they would redesign those sessions to reflect the common core by next year.

A few other interesting points illustrated by the study:

The disconnect between K-12 and higher education. Again, it’s unsurprising that K-12 officials have little idea about how their college systems will connect with the common standards and assessments. About half had the sense that higher-ed. planned to revise teacher-prep programs in light of the new standards; the other half didn’t know. Would colleges revise curriculum to reflect the standards? Would they embrace results of the assessments for admissions decisions? No clue. This could be because K-12 and higher ed. typically don’t communicate or coordinate closely. It could be because higher ed. has a sense that this whole K-12 standards business is really, well, K-12’s problem. But either way, it’s an issue: Folks concerned with high remediation rates and such have long argued that if K-12 and higher ed. don’t get together and work out the kinks, the pipeline won’t work properly.

The role of Race to the Top. Interesting results here. States said that the chance of winning Race to the Top money wasn’t the main reason they adopted the standards. They ranked that fourth, saying the rigor of the standards, the possibility of using them as a framework for statewide education improvement, and beefing up their own standards were more important. Yet elsewhere in the survey, it was clear that Race to the Top money talks: Most of the states that gave shorter timelines for being able to align key parts of their system to the common standards were Race to the Top winners.

Districts stay in control. Have you worried that states would throw their weight around and dictate how the new standards would be taught in districts? The survey suggests you can relax. In an interesting set of findings, 31 states answered yes to the question of whether they would “require” districts to implement the common standards. But their answers to a subsequent question showed that those “requirements” were closer to expectations; changes in professional development, curriculum, teacher evaluation, and such were “expected” of districts, but not required, the states said. In other words: We’re not going to dictate how you guys do this, but you overlook it at your peril, since you’ll be held accountable for the results of assessments on this stuff.

What does all this mean? As one think tanker told me, maybe not much, because it’s far easier to say you’re planning to do something than to do it. How sincere states are in their desires to become one with the common standards is still debated among the idealistic and cynical. But even the most sincere have a heavy lift ahead of them, given all the moving parts involved in full implementation, and the lack of money and capacity to make them all move in harmony.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.