Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Building the Missing Link Between Common Core and Improved Learning

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September 11, 2013

The most important thing leaders in the education field can do to help the Common Core movement succeed is to support teachers in improving their practices. This needs to be more than lip service if the Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are to rise to their billing as “the most important education reform in the country’s history” (according to The New York Times Editorial Board). The goal is to improve the standards for what students need to learn at each stage of their K-12 education and raise the bar for the instruction that will drive such learning.

 The most important thing leaders in the education field can do to help the Common Core movement succeed is to support teachers in improving their practices.

Through our work with state, district, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders, we have seen what it takes to implement the Common Core in ways that have the potential to yield significant improvement in teaching and learning. But we’re worried that many - perhaps most - states and districts are falling victim to five implementation traps:

  1. Miscalculating the gap: Failing to acknowledge the true gap between the previous standards and new standards, and therefore underestimating the intensity of work required - at all levels of the system - to make the changes necessary to transform teaching and learning in every classroom.
  2. Overlooking the frontline: Approaching implementation from the top down, versus engaging the frontline - teachers, school leaders, administrators, and other key stakeholders - as genuine owners of the opportunity for improved instruction.
  3. Failing to create a sufficient plan: Assuming that “adoption” of the standards will be a catalyst for change in and of itself, without a rigorous plan for implementation that places teachers - who are key to implementation - at the center of the work.
  4. Banking on short-term trainings: Thinking that the Common Core can be effectively implemented through a series of one-off “trainings” that occur over the course of 1-2 years, as opposed to  multiple cycles of inquiry, reflection, and improvement sustained over many years.
  5. Flooding teachers with “support”:  Inundating teachers with myriad support materials and resources, without a structured way to ensure that teachers are supported in identifying and using the best options that most effectively support teaching and learning aligned with the standards.

In our paper, Building the Missing Link between the Common Core and Improved Learning, we profile three implementation efforts that sidestep these traps and help to seize the classroom benefits of the new standards.  The state of Kentucky, the district of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, and a technical assistance provider, Center for Inspired Teaching, each chart a path to achieving significant and sustainable improvements in instruction.

 We know that such changes to systems are difficult, but the cost of failing to change will be harder to bear.

We know that such changes to systems are difficult, but the cost of failing to change will be harder to bear. As Kristal Doolin, Kentucky Teacher of the Year for 2013, put it in a recent New York Times article: “If [we] teach the way we’ve taught for years and years, basically we’re robbing our kids of the future.”

You can view or download the full article, Building the Missing Link Between the Common Core and Improved Learning:  How a state, a school district, and a technical assistance provider are using their best resource—teachers—to implement the Common Core standards for improved teaching and learning,” here.

 
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