Education Next recently released two articles offering differing perspectives on the progress and promise of Common Core implementation. In “Navigating the Common Core,”Michael McShane of AEI argues that while Common Core holds much promise for creating common expectations for students, successful implementation is contingent upon navigating “a field of mines, any one of which could blow the enterprise sky-high.”
Three mines, oversight, infrastructure, and politics, are especially explosive. McShane argues that the genesis of the Common Core – a co-creation of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers – provided no clear direction for long-term management and oversight. There is no body in charge of updating and revising the standards or holding states accountable for their implementation. As more states opt out of the assessment consortia and create their own state assessments, the promise of cross-state commonalities is quickly being lost.
Second, the infrastructure required to support the new computer-adaptive assessments is a far reach for many states and districts. McShane argues that these assessments will rely on technology “to an unprecedented degree,” and will cost states and districts millions of dollars that they simply don’t have. Bandwidth too is an issue, with some estimating that as many as 72 percent of schools lack the bandwidth necessary to implement successfully the new computer-adaptive assessments.
Finally, McShane notes, “political impediments [to Common Core implementation] span the spectrum.” Those on the right increasingly believe that the Common Core represents severe federal overreach into state sovereignty over education; those on the left, including the AFT, are pushing back not against the standards themselves, but against their implementation and use in newly adopted high-stakes teacher evaluation systems.
In “The Common Core Takes Hold,” Robert Rothman of the Alliance for Excellent Education acknowledges a number of McShane’s concerns: states’ shrinking budgets will likely impact the funding necessary for implementation; there is little to no quality monitoring of the new resources that are being created; the new assessments – and the technology required to implement them – are hugely expensive; the public at large is poorly informed and their support for the standards is waning; and a significant drop in student test scores following implementation of Common Core-aligned assessments is a real concern.
However, despite these challenges, Rothman believes that “the work already under way suggests that the common cores standards are beginning to penetrate the classroom and will have an impact on teaching and learning.” He cites Kentucky’s statewide training and Colorado’s pilot districts as examples of successful large-scale implementation in districts and classrooms and highlights a number of cross-state and national organizations that are gaining traction as evidence of Common Core’s ability to unify states and create commonalities.
SBAC and PARCC, the two assessment consortia, are the largest and most well known of these cross-state organizations. In addition to assessment creation, both have plans to offer additional support to states as they implement Common Core, by creating instructional and curricular tools and conducting professional development. Other national organizations are engaging in cross-state efforts too, like the Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, a group of universities, community colleges, and districts in 30 states that is redesigning teacher preparation to better align with the Common Core, and publishers like Pearson, which is creating a series of online K-12 curriculum materials aligned to the Common Core.
When it comes to assessing the level of implementation of Common Core, it seems that both authors are correct: the Common Core is facing and will continue to face a number of major obstacles in its implementation, and the Common Core has had and will continue to have a significant impact on states, districts, teachers, and students.
But neither of these assessments is particularly surprising or noteworthy. Both NCLB and the standards movement before it faced significant challenges to their implementation. And no one would argue that states, districts, schools, teachers, or students escaped either completely unmarred.
What is different about Common Core is that we have the benefit of hindsight. Like NCLB and the 1990s standards movement, Common Core will both face challenges in its implementation and will leave its mark on the education landscape. However, it is precisely because the Common Core will continue to leave its mark on education that it is imperative that care is taken to navigate its implementation around and through the obstacles it faces.
Common Core implementation will forge ahead for the foreseeable future; but the degree to which we can overcome major obstacles like those raised by McShane and Rothman will determine the quality of the mark that is left on today’s schools, teachers, and students.
Kelly Robson is a Research Assistant with Bellwether Education Partners