Are the States Implementing Common Core?

Michael McShane:, American Enterprise Institute
Robert Rothman:, Alliance for Excellent Education
Ashley Inman:, 707-332-1184, Education Next Communications Office

Are the States Implementing Common Core?

Two experts identify implementation challenges and offer different assessments of progress thus far.

As 45 states work on implementing Common Core State Standards, political support, infrastructure, and coherent oversight are needed to ensure the collaborative initiative’s success. In new articles now available at, two authors offer differing perspectives on how Common Core implementation has fared so far and what challenges should be anticipated. While Michael McShane of the American Enterprise Institute notes concerns about politics, infrastructure and costs interfering with implementation, Robert Rothman of Alliance for Excellent Education claims evidence shows that implementation is moving forward in a deliberate and positive manner.

Pointing out that Common Core implementation in 100,000 schools in 14,000 school districts in 50 states across the country is a massive undertaking, McShane maintains it is not clear who is overseeing implementation to make sure the Common Core standards do, indeed, share commonalities. The author questions whether “state-level bureaucrats, operating in a politically charged, cost-conscious environment without governing structures in place for support, [will] be able to implement a radical overhaul of what K–12 students learn.”

Conversely, Rothman expresses confidence in the states’ abilities to implement the new standards. He cites studies that find 30 states have “developed and disseminated plans for implementation; nearly all had conducted analyses comparing the common core standards to previous state standards; 29 had developed curriculum guides or materials aligned to the common core; and 18 had revised assessments to reflect the standards, while another 15 planned to do so in the 2013-14 school year.”

Implementation, claims Rothman, has been going well in Kentucky and Colorado. Kentucky, which is much further along in Common Core implementation than most other states, worked closely with teachers and “developed a regional infrastructure to provide professional development, materials, and support.” Colorado took a local-approach to implementation, choosing to “pilot implementation in 13 districts, with support from a local organization.”

Hand in hand with implementation, however, are concerns about infrastructure. The assessments designed by the two large testing consortia, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), are designed to be taken on desktops, laptops, and tablets meaning that schools will have to spend money on additional technology for these assessments – money that the districts may not have. Bandwidth in many regions is also an issue. Rothman, though, sees that although 20 states had reported decreased or stable budgets for K–12 education, and 28 reported cuts or level funding for state education agencies, “only 12 states reported cutting back on common core implementation because of budget constraints” and only “six states said they reduced technology expenditures.”

Ultimately, says McShane, the question is not, “are these standards “good” or “bad,” but rather, whether they will be successfully integrated into existing efforts to reform schooling.” Says Rothman: “Judging by the amount of activity that has taken place since the adoption of the standards, and that is likely to continue over the next few years, states are making a strong bet that this round of standards setting will produce better results than the previous round in the 1990s.”

Rothman’s “The Common Core Takes Hold: Implementation moves steadily forward,” and McShane’s “Navigating the Common Core: Complexities threaten implementation” are available now on and will appear in the Summer 2014 issue of Education Next.

About the Authors

Robert Rothman is senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education and Michael McShane is a research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Authors are available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For more information about Education Next, please visit:

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College