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Cross-posted from Education Week
In this blog, we hear from Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday, on the Common Core. Holliday, who is also the President of the Council of Chief State School Officers is joined by Felicia Smith, now CEO of the National Institute for School Leadership, who until recently was the associate commissioner of the Kentucky State Department of Education directly responsible for Common Core implementation.
Marc Tucker: Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core, before development was even finished. How did that happen?
Terry Holliday: We had legislation that said standards had to be adopted by December 2009. We had been providing iterative feedback on the development of the Common Core throughout the development process, and had already seen a draft of the standards we were comfortable with. So the State Board of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Professional Standards Board all passed a resolution adopting the standards. We were beginning to plan for implementation when the final version came out in June 2010.
MT: Who had you involved in the process of shaping the Common Core?
Felicia Smith: We brought together a Working Group for that task. We included, in addition to teachers, individuals from higher education, business and community members, administrators, and others. We broke the Working Group down into two groups of 20 to 30 people each, one for English and the other for mathematics. We continuously updated our legislators at the interim joint legislative meetings, and their representatives were also at every working group meeting.
MT: So everyone involved in this process was intimately involved and deeply knowledgeable as the standards were developed?
FS: They were giving feedback on every draft. We could point specifically to language that Kentucky had submitted that then showed up in the next iteration of the standards. When Kentucky formally adopted the standards, we had a lot of commitment to implementation.
MT: What were you worried about as you went into implementation and how did you address the things that worried you?
TH: I was worried about teacher buy-in. I wanted to be sure that, as we translated the standards into performance expectations using the Stiggins model, teachers all over the state would be involved, and would see the implementation process as something they were driving, not something that was being done to them.
FS: We realized early on that the state agency would have to penetrate a wide range of practices at the district and school levels and within classrooms. We met every month for at least one day over three years with each stakeholder group: teachers, principals and district leaders. We established a Leadership Network structure to assist districts with their local implementation. We had a detailed course of study for each meeting. We gave them reading materials to reflect on and then asked them to bring back work they were implementing along the way. Much of our work around translating standards was around increasing the content knowledge of teachers. But we also worked with the teachers to develop tools they could use to make the standards come alive in classrooms, to build curriculum, to reshape their teaching techniques and instructional methods, to help them with formative assessment strategies. These and other measures were also designed to strengthen teacher’s own grasp of the content they were going to be responsible for teaching. We also wanted the principals to know what effective instruction should look like and to be knowledgeable about the pedagogical practices that would support the shifts that needed to occur to fully realize the standards in classrooms for students. And, finally we wanted district leaders to revamp their curriculum processes for the inclusion of the resources the schools would need to accelerate the implementation of the Common Core.
MT: What did you do to make sure that the standards would be used to create a strong curriculum?
FS: We developed a model curriculum framework based on the standards, but we did not want to mandate the curriculum itself, so we engaged the teacher, principal, and district leaders in a co-development or co-design process for curriculum materials to aide in the implementation of the new standards. Curriculum development, instructional system design and professional development were all intertwined in this model. Teachers would be asked to try out new techniques in their classroom and to bring the resulting student work back to their district and regional meetings. The student work would be compared to the standards. This would stimulate other teachers to try the techniques that the most successful teachers had developed. Teachers were jurying each other’s work and then engaging in regional conversations to engage in a quality assurance process regionally. Student work was always the focus of these subsequent conversations. Our goal was to build a bank of quality resources that teachers could share across the state using our technology platform. No surprise, we found our greatest gains in student performance in those places in which these new teacher-developed tools and techniques into local curriculum was most advanced.
TH: We knew we had to go beyond just the ELA and math teachers. We worked with Learning Forward to set up guidelines for a more comprehensive professional development system statewide. We are struggling to find high-quality professional development resources that can support our conception of what needs to be done, but they are very scarce. I don’t think we got a lot of middle school teachers’ attention until assessment results came out, and they found out that their kids didn’t have the background knowledge they thought they had. I think we are still a couple of years away from the point at which these initiatives will have a widespread effect on learning.
MT: Some states are trying to do this all overnight, with catastrophic results. When Dave Driscoll implemented the new MCAS system of standards and assessments in Massachusetts, he insisted that there be no consequences for anyone for years while the state helped teachers build the skills needed to teach the standards well.
TH: That’s exactly what I wanted to do. In our request for a waiver extension, we asked the U.S. Department of Education if we could do that with Science. We wanted to give teachers at least two years with standards before high-stakes assessments. We would have been much happier with a three-year delay. The U.S. Department of Education has been pushing us hard to adopt their strategy to use teacher evaluation based on student scores on standardized tests. We kept asking the Department to give us waiver extensions that would enable us to avoid doing that and managed to put it off for five years. We said it was unfair to ask teachers to accept a teacher evaluation model based on student performance on standardized tests unless, one, those tests were based on the Common Core and, two, the teachers had had several years to develop the skills and create the curricula needed to implement the Common Core. But, even then, we think the Department’s model is deeply flawed. Our model is very much a professional growth model. We don’t believe in a model of teacher evaluation in which a percent of the evaluation is based on student test scores; that is why we submitted a matrix model of assessment, which cannot be used to associate student test scores with individual students. That model was ultimately approved by the Department.
MT: How would you judge your implementation so far? Where are you headed? Where do you see the country going?
TH: With respect to how we are doing so far, I’d say the following. In 2009, 30 percent of our high school graduates were college- and career-ready, according to students ACT scores, college placement tests and a readiness measure agreed to by Kentucky’s two-year and four-year institutions. For the class of 2014, the proportion is now over 60 percent, a doubling in just five years. Our state proficiency results are up seven or eight percent too. We are proud of what we have accomplished but we know we have a long way to go to match the performance of the top-performing countries. Assessment for the Common Core is a big concern. PARCC will not survive, SBAC might. We need access to their performance items, but they are resisting, because they think that ownership of their items is the key to their business model. The states should be collaborating through CCSSO to refresh assessment items — but not contracting through PARCC or SBAC. Every state has a procurement process that they have to adhere to.
MT: Do you have advice for other states?
TH: Go slow in order to go fast. When the teachers see the Common Core being rushed into place, when they are told that their heads could roll if their students are not making progress against the Common Core, when they have not had the support they need to teach it well, they are at least frustrated and many will turn against the Common Core. It is critical that there is enough time between the time the Common Core is first introduced and the time that the professionals are held accountable for the results for teachers to get the support they need to teach it well. This is the approach that David Driscoll took when he introduced the MCAS system in Massachusetts and he was right. Implement—as much as possible—your own agenda, and not the federal government’s agenda. Make sure you’ve got state legislation to do what you are doing. Don’t rely on federal waivers and the Secretary of Education; he’ll be gone in two years. The states need to figure out how to use standards to increase student—not teacher—accountability and they need to do much more to promote the use of assessment to support learning.
MT: What about advice for the federal government?
TH: We tried to tell them they should not get out in front in supporting the Common Core, but they did not listen. Ever since the President took credit for the Common Core in the 2011 State of the Union, it has all been downhill. Supporting the Common Core doesn’t mean squat unless you are supporting teachers. The best thing the feds can do is get out of the way.
Cross-posted from Education Week
This is the first of my interviews on the Common Core. We begin with California. In California, it is the State Board of Education that is the policy-making body under the law. Mike Kirst is president of the Board and one of the country’s leading education policy analysts. In 1975, during Governor Jerry Brown’s first term, he appointed Kirst to the Board, and Kirst served as president from 1977 to 1981. In 2011, at the start of Governor Brown’s second term, he again appointed Kirst to the Board.
Marc Tucker: Mike, how would you characterize the challenge in implementing the Common Core?
Mike Kirst: Over a long career as an education policy analyst, I’ve learned that the effectiveness of state education systems depends more than anything else on the coherence of the whole system, the way the parts and pieces fit together. When it became state policy to adopt the Common Core, I realized that we could not implement the Common Core—which calls for all students achieving at levels only a handful have achieved in the past—with a 20th century education system designed to reach a much more modest goal. I sat down and wrote a paper that included a graphic (see below) describing all the parts and pieces of the system that would have to be fundamentally changed to properly implement these standards, everything from the way we fund our schools to the way teachers are first educated and trained to the kinds of tests that the state would have to use and the fundamental changes that would be needed in our accountability system, and much, much more. Really implementing the Common Core would mean changing almost everything.
MT: What did you conclude about how well California teachers are prepared to implement the Common Core?
MK: The size of our system, with 6.2 million students, makes an implementation of this size and scope complex. We’re making progress, districts are working hard, and we recognize it will take years to ensure all of our 280,000 teachers are well prepared. One of the most critical investments will continue to be providing support for teachers in classrooms. We couldn’t succeed without changing pre-service teaching and professional development. We knew early on to involve higher education. That was very much front and center. I have a letter from all the higher education system heads committing their institutions to the fundamental changes that will be required to get there. We created a new group called the Instructional Quality Commission to develop new frameworks aligned to the Common Core. Bill Honig, California’s former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, led the Commission at the start and he continues to be actively involved. We also have a separate board, The Commission on Teacher Credentialing, to regulate teacher standards and training. It is chaired by Linda Darling-Hammond.
MT: We find among the top performers that they view standards, curriculum, and assessments as one single system. The assessments in those countries test the degree to which the student has mastered the content in the syllabus. The United States is finally deciding that we need the kinds of standards these countries have, but where is California on curriculum and assessment?
MK: Getting the assessments right is crucial. California is a flagship member of Smarter Balanced. Smarter Balanced has a whole package that we regard as an instructional system. They have a digital library and short-cycle assessment and resources to reteach students material that they didn’t get the first time around. We have brought Smarter Balanced into the University of California, Los Angeles so we have more staff dedicated to implementation and improving our instructional system now. We see Smarter Balanced as a new kind of hybrid, involving both instructional improvement and assessment, that we can use to drive instruction in California.
MT: You’ve said that it all gets down to the teacher, the student and the materials the teacher uses. What will the state’s role be in curriculum in the age of the Common Core?
MK: California has curriculum frameworks, not syllabi. The frameworks specify what you need to teach and how you teach it. It is less specific than the guidance you will find in many countries with a more centralized system, and our frameworks are designed for each subject by grade level. Some of the guidance is for teachers, some for principals and some for districts.
MT: How is the textbook adoption process changing in light of the Common Core?
MK: We’ve provided much more flexibility in our system to increase innovation and save districts time and money. We don’t adopt textbooks anymore; we endorse them. Local districts look to us for recommended textbooks and curriculum frameworks. They can adopt their own textbooks from our recommended list or they can go through their own adoption process. The materials must be aligned to the Common Core standards.
MT: How long will California teachers have to implement the Common Core before it counts for anything?
MK: We will give a baseline assessment in 2015, but we know that full implementation of Common Core in our classrooms is going to take time. We’re committed to getting this done right rather than letting federal policy dictate how we improve learning and student outcomes in our state. We are still operating under the requirements of NCLB, and we’re providing $50,000 for professional development on Common Core in addition to other support for each school newly identified for corrective action. Every time you ratchet up accountability, you have to ratchet up capacity.
MT: So where are you now?
MK: We have done everything in the policy wheel that we outlined originally. We have redone the school finance system. We have done all the obvious things around curriculum and teacher and principal policy. And so on. I would give us a really high grade on state policy making. But all of that and a dollar will get you not much more than a cheap cup of coffee because it is on the ground in the classrooms where it all happens. That is where we concentrate all our energy from now on.
MT: As you describe it, California’s strategy for implementing the Common Core was very different from that of the U.S. Department of Education. Do you see it that way?
MK: Yes, I do. We believe that what is actually taught in classrooms is the key to success. We made a conscious decision to focus on what was best for our state rather than what was best for the federal government. We were prepared to take a lot of heat for that. We knew we would lose the teachers if we told them on the one hand that they needed to teach to the Common Core but then on the other, held them personally accountable, as the federal government prescribed, for their students’ performance on the old standardized tests. It was a deliberate decision and it was the right decision. The California Teachers Association has been all out for the Common Core and supported it at every turn. It would have caused all kinds of dissonance if we had embraced the federal agenda and rushed the system. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t kept our focus on system wide implementation as the first and most critical step.
MT: Looking ahead, what is your biggest challenge?
MK: Implementation. The thing that keeps me up at night is that in a state of our size and complexity we need a large infrastructure to equip our teachers to teach the Common Core. In 2013 the Governor and lawmakers invested $1.25 billion specifically for Common Core implementation. Recently a number of foundations have signaled their willingness to help support the implementation efforts we have underway. The bottom line is that we’re making progress but we have a lot of work ahead.
Graphic by Michael Kirst.
Cross-posted from Education Week
There has been much Sturm und Drang about the Common Core in recent months, but it looks to me as though the Common Core, in most states, is safe for the time being. Its name may be changed in some states. It may suffer from nips and tucks on occasion, but in most states it will emerge into the highlands fairly unscathed.
But that, in my view, does not mean that it is home free. Far from it. The real test for the Common Core, the fire it must go through to become a permanent feature of the national education infrastructure, lies in the extent to which it is well and truly implemented in the states. Unfortunately, for that to happen, almost everything else has to change.
Consider what the Common Core is all about. Prior to the Common Core, the states set their own standards and chose their own tests to measure student progress against those standards. In a majority of states, students can graduate high school by getting a passing grade on their core high school courses and they could do that mostly just by showing up. High school textbooks are mostly set to 8th grade reading levels. In the states with graduation requirements that require passing a test, those tests can be passed by students with no more than a 9th grade level of English literacy and a deeply flawed understanding of middle school math. Bear in mind that we are recruiting our teachers from among the lower ranks of those high school graduates, and our expectations for their command of the subjects they will teach when they become teachers is generally very modest, especially at the elementary school level.
The Common Core is set to a very different standard. It requires the students not simply to be able to execute the standard mathematics algorithms accurately, but it requires students to understand why those algorithms work, which is a much more demanding, requirement. It requires that students be able to marshal knowledge from many different arenas in order to make carefully reasoned and persuasive arguments in good English, which is much more than most can do now. But there is no reason to believe that our teachers are better writers than the average college student, and that is a lower standard than the authors of the Common Core had in mind.
There is no nation that has attained the upper ranks of national student performance that has not done a lot of work to devise a very strong curriculum as the heart of its national instructional system. They have very high quality examinations the purpose of which is to find out the degree to which the student has mastered that curriculum. But the states have not developed curricula that will become the basis of their examination systems. It is hard to imagine us having the kind of success that the top performers have had unless we figure out how to create very powerful and coherent curricula that accurately reflect the intent of the standards and serve as the basis of our examinations. We’ll have to see how well the tests developed by the state consortia and their competitors reflect the intentions of the Common Core’s authors.
Wealthy school districts have always had first dibs on our best teachers and our most costly facilities and instructional programs and materials. So they will be the districts most likely to fulfill the promise of the Common Core unless something is done to radically improve the capacity of less favored districts to employ teachers who have the education and training to function at the very high levels required to deliver the Common Core in the way it was meant to be delivered. If that does not happen, the Common Core is more likely to widen the gap in performance between the vulnerable children in our society and those who are most favored. But making good on that goal will require that our teacher education institutions attract more capable high school graduates and educate and train them to far higher standards.
And that raises the question as to how the nation will help our current teaching force learn the content and gain the craft knowledge that will be needed to teach the Common Core so that their students will be able to learn what the authors of the Common Core intended. That, too, is a non-trivial challenge.
The history of American education is littered with the failure of reforms that were said to have failed, but in fact were never really implemented. That fate is the greatest danger faced by the Common Core. And it is already happening. Critics of the Common Core are now able to point to hastily prepared curriculum devised by some states in the name of the Common Core and use that curriculum to denounce the Common Core, even though it was not produced by the Common Core authors and makes them cringe when they see it. Textbook publishers are making cosmetic changes in textbooks predating the Common Core and furnishing them with gold colored seals pronouncing them to be aligned with the Common Core. Vendors of professional development workshops are repackaging their old wine and putting it in new bottles labeled Common Core.
The Common Core is far more likely to be declared a failure by the general public because the states failed to implement it well than it is likely to be the victim of the attacks of current critics from either the right or the left.
So I decided that I would make a short list of states I had some reason to believe might be ahead of the curve on implementing the Common Core and talk to some well informed people from those states about what they have been doing to address some of these issues and what they think the prospects are for doing what must be done to give the Common Core some decent prospects for success. And I decided, too, to talk with some of the key people involved in writing the Common Core standards to see how they think implementation is going and see what is worrying them the most.
So tune in to the next few blogs. You will find out what these people have to say. It is all very interesting. Some of it is riveting.
Cross-posted from Education Week
In my last blog, I responded to a piece that Anthony Cody wrote about our recent paper on accountability, which Diane Ravitch had made room for on her blog. Then Diane responded to my response to Cody’s piece. Still following me? Good. Then Diane provided more space on her blog for yet another impassioned attack on our accountability paper by Yong Zhao. In this blog, I will have something quite brief to say about Diane’s response and a bit more to say about Yong Zhao’s critique. I promise this will be the end of the string, because I have a long series of blogs coming on the current state of the Common Core that I would like to get on with.
First, Diane’s comments. She characterized my comments on Cody’s critique and her own comments on both our report and Cody’s critique as an attempt by me to pick a quarrel where none exists. And then she listed a number of points on which she and I agree, among them that schools would have higher test scores if there were less poverty, that teachers should be better prepared for their work, that they should get more mentoring and support and higher salaries. Yes, we do agree on those things and I’m glad she pointed that out.
Then she picks out an area on which she thinks we disagree. She does not think that high stakes tests are necessary to improve teaching and learning. She offers a list of the nation’s most elite, private independent schools as evidence for her point. In effect, she is saying that, if these schools don’t use standardized tests, and they are by common consent among the very best schools in the country, that shows that standardized tests are not a necessary component of good schooling. That’s where Yong Zhao comes in.
Zhao reasons as follows: If [Tucker] believes, “…that our test-based accountability system ‘is not only ineffective but harmful,’ [Tucker] would logically suggest that system be abandoned. Instead he tries to fix it and the fixes include more tests, more high stakes tests, and more standardized tests.”
Yup, that is what I proposed. But I see no inconsistency here. I do not think all standardized tests are bad, nor did I ever suggest that I think they are. Quite the contrary. I have seen many, in different parts of the world, that are very good indeed. What I am opposed to is cheap standardized tests that trivialize what is to be learned and cheat children of a good education and cheat teachers of the chance to teach the rich curriculum they know their students need. I was arguing not that the United States needs to abandon standardized tests, but that it needs much better standardized tests, administered at fewer grade levels.
My organization runs a high school reform initiative called Excellence For All. Its design is based in part on the use of a Board Examination Program (a closely aligned system of standards, curriculum and examinations based on the Common Core) offered to high school freshmen and sophomores by the University of Cambridge. The pilot high schools include everything from a school serving fairly upscale mostly majority kids in Phoenix to a high school serving mostly very poor and minority kids in the Mississippi Delta. When the teachers first looked at the Cambridge examinations and the curriculum material that came with them, they told us that what they were looking at was the curriculum they had always wanted to teach. They had no problem with the idea of teaching to these examinations because the examinations honored their conception of what teaching and learning ought to be about. For decades, the ambition of most high school teachers has been to teach Advanced Placement classes. Those teachers are teaching to a test. In both the case of Advanced Placement and the schools in our pilot initiative, there are high stakes, but they are for the students, not the teachers. And that is exactly what I proposed in our accountability paper.
The University of Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations are not widely known in the United States, which is why the elite schools Diane mentioned don’t use them, but they are used in schools in about 175 countries around the world, often in schools quite comparable in every way to the ones Diane named. Why? First because they are first rate, and second because the Cambridge name connotes quality and high standards. That is, they are very good standardized tests that are reliably scored. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of top performing countries use standardized tests. The difference between the United States and these countries is not that we use standardized tests and they don’t, but that they use census testing only one, two or three times in a student’s whole career in school and the tests are very, very good, and we test interminably with very poor quality tests.
There is a reason that Diane cited a list of private, not public, schools. Especially in this day and age, it is simply not possible for any state in the United States to deny parents the opportunity to compare student performance across public schools against a set of common standards and measures determined by the government. Nor should it be. To suggest otherwise is wishful thinking. The question is not whether there should be standardized tests, but what they should look like, what they should test, how often they are administered, how high their quality needs to be and how they are used.
Date: October 16, 2014
Date: October 9, 2014
Date: October 2, 2014
Date: September 26, 2014
Date: September 19, 2014