Acting on Common Standards

Two-thirds of states have now signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative, pledging to adopt the K-12 English/language arts and math standards framework officially released in final form by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers back in June.

Without doubt, CCSSI is a necessary step forward in our national school improvement effort.  One, singular set of academic standards is a non-negotiable if we are to truly improve our performance on national assessments such as NAEP and if we are to make ourselves more competitive on international benchmarks such as PISA and TIMSS.  CCSS offer the promise that, in the near future, we will actually know the answer to the question, what should a fourth grader know when it comes to math?  Or what does it mean to be ELA proficient in the 7th grade.  Doesn’t matter what state or district a student is in (unless they happen to reside in Texas or Virginia), standards will soon actually be standard.

As states are moving to formally adopt the CCSS, the federal government is already beginning the process of developing the assessments that will accompany such standards.  In the coming weeks, we should hear about hundreds of millions of dollars being sent to various consortia to develop a standard assessment to go with the standards.  But an important question remains.  How do we move these K-12 standards frameworks into real instruction?   

Often, school improvement efforts get bogged down in this question.  We offer up a “great idea” but have little notion of how to operationalize it.  So those great ideas wither on the vine.  We all sign onto the concept, but we never fully put it into practice.

Last week, a comprehensive set of K-12 ELA “curriculum maps” were released for public review and comment.  The maps are a product of Common Core (which despite the name is not actually a part of or affiliated with CCSSI).  According to the folks at Common Core (a group Eduflack has been fortunate to work with):

Common Core’s Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts were written by public school teachers for public school teachers. The maps translate the new Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten through 12th grade into unit maps that teachers can use to plan their year, craft their own more detailed curriculum, and create lesson plans. The maps are flexible and adaptable, yet they address every standard in the CCSS. Any teacher, school, or district that chooses to follow the Common Core maps can be confident that they are adhering to the standards. Even the topics the maps introduce grow out of and expand upon the “exemplar” texts recommended in the CCSS. And because they are free the maps will save school districts millions in curriculum development costs. The draft maps are available for public comment until September 17.

There has been a great deal swirling around the blogsphere the past week on these Curriculum Maps.  One thing seems certain.  Like CCSSI itself, these Maps are a necessary first step toward moving the standards into real instruction.  Do they answer each and every question one has about implementing CCSS?  Of course not.  But it does put us on a real path toward teaching English according to what is expected from CCSS.  And it does so on a platform that was constructed on the standards themselves (rather than being tailored from old, existing materials or simply claiming alignment even if one is not there).

Perhaps most importantly, though, is that these standards were “written by public school teachers for public school teachers.”  We’ve been hearing a great deal, of late, about how most education improvement efforts seem to exclude teachers from the process.  We bring them the final product, asking them to implement, but we don’t give them any practical input into the development.  These Common Core Curriculum Maps seem different.  Educators developed and reviewed these drafts.  Teachers are now being asked to provide public comment and input on the drafts.  And those teacher inputs will be factored in before the Maps go final later this fall.

Such maps only live up to their potential, though, if folks provide valuable feedback and actionable recommendations.  Both the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation processes were strengthened because of a robust public comment period.  Same goes for the Common Core State Standards themselves, which went through comprehensive review and public comment before we saw the final product in early June. 

So for all of those who worry how to implement the standards, now is the time to offer public comment.  For all of those who worry that teachers have been ignored in the school reform process, now is the time to offer public comment.  For all of those who have first-hand, real classroom experience to provide, now is the time to offer public comment.  And for those who want to improve both teaching and learning, particularly in ELA, now is the time to offer public comment.

As the first to market, these Common Core Curriculum Maps have the potential of wielding significant impact on the future of instruction in our public school classrooms.  If we are going to start from the strongest footing possible, we need teachers and administrators and policymakers and the like to take the time to review the maps and offer their views on how to strengthen the recommendations and improve the tools that will be provided the educators throughout the nation.

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