States Struggling With Common Core Transition

Chuck Pack, an Oklahoma geometry teacher, is eager to fully implement the Common Core State Standards into the curriculum. The new standards focus on depth, rather than breadth, which Pack says will expand his students’ understanding of math concepts.

“I usually teach 12 chapters in one year of Geometry,” he says. “In the Common Core, I’ll have six units that cover concepts more comprehensively.”

But Pack realizes the Common Core transition will be slow and difficult. He says his school and the district are introducing them gradually, one or two standards at a time. And they’re not alone.

Halfway through the 2011-2012 year, states across the country are still grappling with the transition to the Common Core State Standards. The new standards are more rigorous and lessons are much more complex than those of previous standards, and most states do not expect to have them in place until the 2014-15 school year or later, according to a new report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

“You can’t just flip the switch to the new standards,” Pack says.

Full Implementation Requires Full Funding

The CEP report, based on a survey of 35 Common Core State Standards-adopting states (including the District of Columbia), examined the states’ progress in transitioning to the new standards.  The vast majority of the states in the survey believe that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are more rigorous than previous state academic standards in math and English language arts, and most are taking steps to familiarize state and district officials with the new standards and to align curriculum and assessments.  But they also cautioned that having adequate resources is a major challenge to full implementation of the CCSS.

“Fully implementing the CCSS is a complex undertaking that will take time and affect many aspects of the education system,” said Diane Stark Rentner, director of national programs for CEP and co-author of the study. “Looming over this entire process is the major challenge of adequate resources. Policymakers should be aware that funding problems could cause states to curtail or delay some of their plans.”

Foremost is the need to fund professional development.

“Teachers need professional development on how to deliver the new standards and how to help kids achieve the new standards,” says Barbara Kapinus, National Education Association Senior Policy Analyst, who facilitated NEA teacher member input and feedback for the development of the new standards. “What we’ve done in the past with things like scripted programs won’t work with the new standards. Teachers are going to have to plan complex, challenging lessons, and respond to kids individually in complex ways – ways that will challenge teachers’ problem solving as well.”

Common Core Transition: New Standards, New Assessments

Part of the CCSS professional development is involving teachers in the determination of curriculum and lessons, but also in the creation of the new assessments. According to Kapinus, teachers must share their expertise in the development of assessments.

“Who knows best about how the standards can be measured than the teachers carrying them out in the classroom?” she asks.

The federal government is funding two state consortia to develop the assessments, which will mostly be administered on computers rather than on paper with number two pencils. They’re slated to be operational by the 2014-2015 school year, but recognizing the need for implementation help, the Department of Education awarded the consortia an additional $15.9 million to support state transitions to and implementation of common standards and assessments.

Says Kapinus: “It’s common sense. The standards can’t be assessed until they’re implemented.”