From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Friday, March 22, 2013, Volume 32, Issue 26. See
Which Path for the Common Core?
By Ken Kay & Bob Lenz
As educators across the country implement the Common Core State
Standards, we see two paths emerging ... and diverging.
The first path treats the common core as just another set of standards
to implement and assess. Educators jump straight to the grade-level
requirements and map them to their curricula in a compliance-driven
exercise. It starts to look a lot like what we've been doing with
the No Child Left Behind Act for the last 10 years-a narrowed
curriculum focused more on test scores than on college and career
The second path leverages the strengths of the common core to
transform teaching and learning. It entails educators' taking the
time to understand what is visionary about these new standards and how
they can help drive college and career success for students.
We are concerned that if the first path becomes the norm, the
common core will represent a missed opportunity in U.S. education that
will set us back decades.
The common core can and should serve as a unique transformational
opportunity for our nation's teaching and learning systems.
Educators who leverage these standards to teach and assess such
competencies as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration
will lead the way to postsecondary and career success for more
While we view the adoption of the common core as a positive turn,
these standards should be considered the floor and not the ceiling
when it comes to achievement. Important student outcomes (financial
literacy, global competence, and self-direction, to name a few) are
not addressed. We believe it is critical to adopt a "common core and
more" approach, as some schools are doing.
Visionary leaders see the common core as the leverage they need to
dramatically change outcomes for students and the systems in which
students learn. They call for students to not only master content and
basic skills, but also critical dispositions like analysis, research,
inquiry, and deeper learning outcomes, such as communication skills
and critical thinking and problem-solving.
These promising implementations seem to have three distinct features
Aligning the common-core standards to 21st-century skills and deeper
learning outcomes. First, some districts are using their common-core
implementation to reinforce their commitment to a 21st-century
learning model. The Catalina Foothills school district in Tucson,
Ariz., has had a 21st-century learning model for seven years. When
district officials began implementing the common core, their first
task was to integrate the standards and their 21st-century learning
objectives. They created working groups of 12 math and 12 English
teachers (one for each grade) who are "mapping" their district's
21st-century learning outcomes with the common-core standards. This
guides all of Catalina Foothills' work with students, teachers, and
Envision Education, the charter-management organization that one of us
(Bob) heads, developed a "graduate profile" that integrates the
common core with the "4C's" (critical thinking, communication,
collaboration, and creativity) and preparation for a lifetime of
The graduate profiles center around three simple, concrete verbs:
know, do, and reflect. The prepared graduate knows the content and the
discrete skills of her academic subjects. She can do what typical
college courses demand (research, analysis, inquiry) and master deeper
learning outcomes. And she has the ability to reflect, a habit of
self-awareness and revision that sets her on the path of continued
growth and ultimately success in college and career.
Capacity-building through professional development. For leaders
pursuing innovative implementations of the common core, changes in
professional development are required. Some are using professional
learning communities to build their professional development around
critical thinking. The Manitowoc, Wis., public schools, for instance,
are using the principles of authentic intellectual work and
professional learning communities to help their teachers improve their
instruction regarding critical-thinking skills in math and
English/language arts. Meanwhile, at the Tahoma school district in
Washington state, educators are being trained in the tools of
"systems thinking" so they can pass that knowledge along to students
as well as use such tools to understand what's being transformed in
their own district.
The Metro Nashville district in Tennessee began an intensive
high-school-redesign process six years ago, and, about three years
ago, officials there began developing an intensive
professional-development strategy to help high school teachers improve
their work in project-based learning. When the common core came on the
scene, educators in Nashville concluded that project-based learning
would offer a perfect implementation strategy because of its emphasis
on problem-solving and communication competencies, both of which are
in demand via the common core.
New assessment strategies. Finally, and importantly, many district
leaders are using common-core implementation to drive more innovative
assessment strategies by focusing on performance assessment. If the
common-core standards define what students need to know and be able to
do to be ready for success in college and career, student performance
assessment is how students can demonstrate that readiness through
their actual work product, not just a fill-in-the-bubble test.
The Deeper Learning Student Assessment Initiative, led by Envision,
has developed rigorous and relevant performance tasks with
corresponding rubrics to assess student work. The rubrics take into
account factors such as analysis, communication, and reflection around
the work product. In addition, students create and defend portfolios
of college-ready work as part of their high school graduation
requirements. The common core offers the opportunity to change the
focus from assessment of learning to assessment as learning.
Nine California school districts that are part of the Linked Learning
Initiative (high school pathways that link college and career
preparation) have also formed the Advanced Pathway Performance
Assessment system project, or APPA. APPA engages a select group in
cutting-edge work to more effectively and systematically measure and
support student development of the knowledge and skills they need to
graduate prepared for college, careers, and life. Over the course of
the two-year project, schools will begin to implement pathway-wide
systems of performance-based assessment that include the use of
common, outcomes-aligned rubrics and performance tasks, and a
culminating student demonstration of learning and skill-all aligned
with the common core and the 4C's.
As it stands today, we see too many educators treating the common core
as yet another compliance exercise.
We still have time to follow a better path-to treat the common core
as an opportunity to transform teaching and learning and embrace a
broad and expansive notion of college and career readiness.
Thankfully, we have found some leaders headed down this path. More
SIDEBAR: "The common core can and should serve
as a unique transformational opportunity for our nation's teaching
and learning systems."
Ken Kay is the chief executive officer of EdLeader21, a network of
school and district leaders based in Tucson, Ariz. He was the founding
president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Bob Lenz is the
CEO of Envision Education, a nonprofit charter-management organization
and education consulting firm in Oakland, Calif.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244