Yesterday’s report that Chicago’s public schools and teacher’s union agreed to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards completely puzzled me. The Tribune writes: “Forty-four states, including Illinois, already have adopted this curriculum. But CPS had not, despite a widening gap between the city’s best-performing schools and those in the middle of the pack.”
There seem to be quite a few inaccuracies here. First of all, Common Core is not a curriculum, but rather a set of standards that articulate what students should know and be able do in language arts and math. Curriculum, pacing guides, formative assessments, and the like are developed from the standards to help teachers use the standards in their instruction. And second, the Illinois Board of Education had already signed on to Common Core over a year ago, so I really don’t think Chicago had much of a choice in the matter.
While it is newsworthy that Chicago is going to start implementing the Common Core this year, I am also puzzled by their implementation strategy: “A handful of CPS schools will implement the new curriculum this school year, although district officials have not yet identified them.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. School is starting next Tuesday in Chicago, so teachers literally have three days to learn the standards and plan to implement a new curriculum. But since the schools haven’t been identified yet, I don’t see how even those three days will be much use. And as Chicago only recently won a grant from the AFT to develop curriculum units aligned with Common Core, I doubt those are ready to be rolled out. Thus, teachers will be implementing the standards as they go along – a scenario that will likely result in very little change from the status quo in terms of what teachers do in their classrooms.
Chicago should learn from districts that are being much more deliberate in their implementation plans for Common Core. Education Week hosted a webinar earlier this week where it highlighted two such districts – Cleveland and Hillsborough County. While both districts are engaged in implementing Common Core, Cleveland’s plan struck me as particularly smart and pragmatic.
Cleveland is using a grade-band strategy, starting with kindergarten through 2nd grade teachers. This choice was strategic for multiple reasons. First, grades K-2 are not tested, so the fact that the Common Core standards are not aligned with Ohio’s assessment system is a non-issue. Second, by starting with the youngest grades, Cleveland could build up students’ knowledge and abilities based on the Common Core and avoid the problem of holding students accountable for knowledge and skills they were supposed to have learned in earlier grades. Further, Cleveland took an entire year to build awareness and knowledge of the standards among their K-2 teaching corps, “unpack” the standards and begin sifting through available instructional materials, develop formative assessments, and revise their Scope and Sequence pacing guide. The district accomplished all of this before trying to implement the standards in the classroom. Once classroom implementation begins this year, the district has a training and support plan for all K-2 teachers and plans to collect feedback so that the Scope and Sequence can be revised and improved.
It’s not rocket science to see the difference between Chicago’s and Cleveland’s approaches. And it’s just as easy to recognize which one is more likely to be successful.