Standards Opinion

Five Essential Schoolwide Conditions for Common-Core Achievement

By Learning First Alliance — January 10, 2013 4 min read
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By Mel Riddile,
Associate Director of High School Services at the National
Association of Secondary Principals

Principal leadership matters--perhaps now more than ever
before. As much as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing
instructional practice in the classroom, we must acknowledge that student
learning under CCSS requires a schoolwide transformation that transcends
individual classrooms and requires the dedicated, continual attention of the
principal. Consider how these five essential schoolwide conditions for CCSS will
fundamentally shift the way principals go about leading schools.

1. A culture of college
and career readiness.
Culture reflects the mindsets and expectations of everyone in the school
and ultimately drives behavior. A CCSS culture reflects the universal
expectation that all students will be prepared for life beyond high school, and
it encourages students’ capacity to imagine their long-term possibilities. In
much the same way that a discipline policy becomes ineffective if only half the
teachers enforce it, a culture of high expectations must pervade every meeting,
every assignment, every interaction with a student

2. Schoolwide literacy.
Make no mistake: The success of the new standards will depend heavily on the
ability of school leaders to implement schoolwide, cross-content literacy
initiatives. In the overblown tension between literary and informational texts,
we must realize that fully 19 percent of all words in the standards are some
form of the word
text. (Most previous
state standards were under 1 percent.) The standards call for closer reading of
more challenging texts and sophisticated response to them in all content areas.
So every teacher--not just English teachers--will have to teach literacy, and
principals will have to build their capacity to do so.

3. Student engagement, collaboration,
and inquiry.
Students cannot improve their reading, writing or discussion
skills by listening to a teacher talk, so principals must lead a schoolwide
flip in the typical ratio of teacher talk and student work. Reflecting the
NASSP Breaking Ranks framework for
school improvement,
the CCSS call for students interacting with the
teacher, with other students, and with ideas. Students will be expected to
collaborate and engage in meaningful, productive classroom discussions centered
on high-level content. And rather than repeat answers, students will be
evaluated on how well they pursue answers to real-world questions. Just as
professionals rarely rely on a single discipline to solve complex problems, so
will students have to draw on knowledge and understanding of various content areas.
It falls to the principal to create conditions for such work across content

4. Instructional time.
While they have input into the curriculum, school leaders directly control
three variables in teaching and learning: time, setting, and methods. Of the
three, increasing quality instructional time may offer the most immediate gains
in student achievement. Teachers will likely need more instructional time in
order to teach more rigorous, higher-level content in more depth and to
integrate literacy skills into their lessons. Even as policymakers are
considering ways to extend school days, school years, out-of-school learning,
and multi-tiered interventions financially possible, school leaders must find
creative ways to optimize the bell-to-bell time they already have.

5. Professional
In the short and long run, improving the quality of teaching
methods will be the foundation for increased student performance. Yet teachers
often lack capacity in the areas that are deemed most critical to the CCSS:
higher-order questioning skills and skills in student engagement and
empowerment. School leaders face a challenge of increasing the capacity of most
of their instructional staff within a relatively brief period of time, and they
must do so in the context of the school as a learning organization. Teacher
isolation can no longer be acceptable. And effective principals will remove the
obstacles for teachers to observe one another, learn from one another, and
engage in high-level instructional conversations both locally and virtually.

A recent action brief by Achieve, Implementing
the Common Core State Standards: The Role of Secondary Principals,
an excellent series of starting points for school leaders. Yet underlying the
practical steps is a belief in the power of collaboration and collective
action. No one person alone can possibly affect the kind of school
transformation necessary to successfully implement the CCSS. As the lead
learner, the principal must work to build a collaborative learning community.
Only then will we release the potential of CCSS to guide a transformation of
learning and unleash the potential of all students, regardless of zip code or

Views expressed in
this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of
the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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