Monday, May 6, 2013

How the Common Core Standards can be a Part of the Solution to Educational Reform

The publication of “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” (1983) renewed interest in education reform efforts.  The result was most states adopting some form of content-based learning standards by the end of the 20th century.  During this period, business leaders, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft, Craig Barrett of Intel and Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. of IBM, began suggesting the key educational issue should be identifying the sort of student needed to emerge from a high school education.  As a result, in 1996 state governors and business leaders created Achieve, Inc.  As a bipartisan, non-profit organization its mission was to help states raise academic standards, improve assessments and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for postsecondary education, work and citizenship.  Initially, five states developed the American Diploma Project (ADP).  By developing a series of rigorous standards identifying the skills and knowledge expected of any student receiving a high school diploma, these five states and Achieve, Inc., formed a basis for educational reform that eventually became the Common Core Standards Initiative.  By 2009, thirty states had aligned their learning standards with those previously explicated by the American Diploma Project (ADP).  The rationale for the ADP, and subsequently the Common Core State Standards, is communities will be better positioned to compete successfully in the global economy when American students are fully prepared for the future.
As with every federally backed initiative since the ESEA (1965) and PL 94-142 (1975), it is difficult to argue with a well-scripted rationale.  Pragmatically, not too many politicians wanted to raise their hand in objection to NCLB, (2001).  After all, who wanted to go on record as being the person willing to leave a child behind?
If the rationale of most federal initiatives is logical and sensible, then what causes the educational inertia perpetuating failure?  Some may argue politics are to blame.  Others feel justified in their complaints with the bureaucracy interfering with change.  However, what if the political and bureaucratic shortcut requesting “alignment” was actually the source of the problem?  Politically, it is too often diplomatically prudent to help decision-makers feel better by suggesting, “you already created a great structure, all you really need to do is some rearrangement.”  From a budgetary perspective, it is cost efficient to tell an assessment publisher to adapt its pool of test items created for the previous learning standards and align items with the Common Core State Standards.  Promoting “alignment” with what is proven to be ineffective rather than honestly seeking effective, sustained change, may be the epitome of Einstein’s quote, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Tying adoption of the Common Core State Standards to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition was political genius.  By the middle of 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds were being exhausted.  Therefore, thirty-nine states facing massive educational budget shortfalls by 2011, did in less than 100 days what was unattainable for the previous 100 years.  Yes, throughout the United States, states adopted common standards for English and mathematics guiding learning each year from Kindergarten through High School.  In most cases, enlightenment was not the impetus.  Indeed, the need for a piece of the 3.4 billion dollars being offered to state education departments winning the September 2010 Race to the Top competition accomplished what logic, reason, or the best interests of all children could not do previously.  Currently, forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards.
Bureaucratically, the educational assessment machine that is Pearson will make breaking the current inertia of failing to monitor and adjust based on student data very difficult.  Alignment is synonymous with profits.  Any assessment company will charge much less for alignment rather than a complete overhaul.  Yet, it still charges for a “new assessment” although most items are from the previous test item bank. 
High expectations explicated as learning standards are a good thing.  Ensuring every state promotes high expectations within its learning standards is a good thing too as the United States must compete in a global economy.  So, could the problem once again be poor implementation? 
In a recent Los Angeles Times editorial (April 22, 2013) the dilemma facing implementation of the Common Core State Standards was well explicated:
Experts are divided over the value of the new curriculum standards, which might or might not lead students to the deeper reading, reasoning and writing skills that were intended.  But on this much they agree: The curriculum will fail if it isn’t carefully implemented with meaningful tests that are aligned with what the students are supposed to learn.  Legislators and education leaders should be putting more emphasis on helping teachers get ready for common core and giving them a significant voice in how it is implemented.  And if the state can’t get the right elements in place to do that by 2014, it would be better off delaying the new curriculum a couple of years and doing it right, rather than allowing common core to become yet another educational flash in the pan that never lives up to its promise.
High expectations explicated as learning standards are part of the variables called leading indicators for success.  Subsequently, test results produce a trailing indicator-exhibiting either student success or failure.  Effective implementation is what comes between the high expectations and the test results. 
A mission of promoting learning for all requires a district to either create a vertically aligned, curriculum-based system or modify a purchased system to make it appropriate for the district’s needs.  An effective system would be able to monitor and adjust established “nonnegotiable goals for achievement and instruction” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 23).
The increased expectations for monitoring and adjusting in real time would be nearly impossible without a technology-based student information and instructional management system.  The Kennewick School District case study provides an actual example of the value of a technology-based student information and instructional management system.  Research by Fielding, Kerr, and Rosier (2007) documented how the achievement gap between economically poor and disadvantaged students and their non-disadvantaged counterparts could be closed by a four-step Targeted Accelerated Growth (TAG) loop process.  The TAG loop process includes the following steps:
(1)   discovering through the administration of diagnostic assessment the 
      sub-skill deficiency,
(2) providing increased direct instructional time,
(3) focused teaching to the deficient sub-skill, and
(4) retesting to assure that learning has actually occurred (Fielding et al, 2007, 
      p. 19). 
The TAG loop process is a process not a linear model.  With any process, change resulting from the interpretation of reliable data is crucial for success based on application of correct micro-adjustments.  It would seem diagnostic testing and professional development for the teaching staff optimizes effectiveness in efficiently using data to implement proportional micro-adjustments in instructional time.  Therefore, with an efficient and effective student information and instructional management system, how to utilize data to effectively and efficiently diagnose and implement needed change becomes possible.    
Before implementing the principle of monitor and adjust effectively, leaders must identify the problem and then lead continuous improvement systems and processes.  To lead continuous improvement systems and processes, the effective educational leader evaluates the Five Ts of Continuous Improvement: Theories, Teams, Tools, Time, and Technology.  The effective educational leader then ensures appropriate performance criteria are established.
A school or district’s continuous improvement goals for a given academic year must succinctly indicate implementation steps for each improvement goal.  The current framework utilized for continuous school improvement encourages no more than three goal statements per year.  Given the complexity of the school system, too many goals adversely impact the level of human energy devoted to the initiative.  Displaying a limited number of continuous improvement goals allows followers and stakeholders to monitor growth through well-explicated action plan.  Therefore, anything more than three continuous improvement goals will be visually overwhelming and thereby perceived as unmanageable.  
The Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) system frequently monitors student performance and ensures alignment between the “intended curriculum”…,“implemented curriculum”…, and the “attained curriculum” (DeLorenzo et al, 2008, p. 64).  Based on research and best practices, implementation of the correlates for Effective Schools is therefore prudent when seeking school improvement.  Disaggregated data helps “the district, its schools, and its teachers to evaluate their effectiveness” (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 62)
The result of frequent monitoring and analysis means data guides instructional decisions.  However, effective use of data depends on how well educational leaders are able to guide the process.  The continuous improvement process in education should develop a building-wide culture whereby all systems, processes, strategies, and actions define “how we do things around here” Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p. 141).  Without interdependent implementation of all the correlates of Effective Schools Research, any progress is adversely impacted.

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (May 6, 2013) How the common core standards can be a part of the solution to
educational reform.  [Web log post] Retrieved from

Davenport, P., & Anderson, G. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: No excuses. Houston, TX:
Delorenzo, R. A., Battino, W., Schreiber, R. M., Carrio, B. G. (2008). Delivering on the promise:
                The education revolution. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. ISBN-13: 9781934009420
Fielding, L., Kerr, N., & Rosier, P. (2007). Annual growth for all students, catch-up growth
             for those who are behind. New York: Foundation Press.
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
                correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T.(2009).  District Leadership That Works. Bloomington, In: Solution
                Tree Press