Saturday, December 31, 2016

What People Don’t Know About Common Core Standards Limits Reform

If the rationale of most federal educational initiatives is logical and sensible, then what causes the educational inertia to perpetuate failure?  Some may argue politics are to blame.  Others feel justified in their complaints with the bureaucracy interfering with change.
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? Yet, few educators would suggest NCLB was well-implemented.
 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 with embracing Common Core Standards once again be poor implementation providing chum for politicians? 
In a 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, and ideally good instruction, 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 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.

Common Core Standards are not the problem.  Knowing where instruction should be heading creates, rather than limits, the autonomy of the innovative, imaginative, passionate educator. Stakeholders should look upon Common Core Standards the same way ancient navigators valued the north star.  So, let us calibrate our instruments based on a set starting point and then succeed to exceed.  For, if better is possible, then good is not enough.  Universally-accepted standards, by any name, merely helps us know good so we can seek better!

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (December 31, 2016) What people don’t know about common core standards limits 
               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