Blog: The Educated Reporter

Superintendents: Common Core Can Work, But More Resources Needed

District superintendents are increasingly confident in the potential of the Common Core State Standards to help improve student learning even as the school leaders question whether there’s enough time and resources for a smooth implementation, a new survey finds.

Earlier this week, I wrote about a new survey of teachers, which found that there had been an uptick in the proportion of them who felt ready to use the Common Core in their classrooms, to 79 percent from 71 percent last year. The survey of superintendents published Oct. 8 by the nonprofit Center on Education Policy offers a crucial companion view on the progress of implementation of the new standards for English language arts and mathematics, which most states have adopted.  

Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz has a thoughtful overview of the CEP survey. Among the highlights: Nearly a third of district leaders say they’re not yet finished with the staff training and curriculum development needed to teach the standards. At the same time, enthusiasm is growing for the Common Core among administrators, the survey suggests, with most saying that in the long run the standards will help students. That’s largely consistent with the “Primary Sources” survey of teachers conducted by Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the key backers of the Common Core.

“We are in a better place than we were three years ago, and we’re almost there” in having the standards fully implemented in all schools, Daniel D. Curry, the superintendent of the 16,000-student Calvert County schools in Maryland, told Education Week. “The heavy lift has been developing our own units of study, involving teachers in the summer, after school and on weekends, keeping some core parts that have been there, but restructuring them, because there is no commercial product that really gets this done,” he said. “Our teachers are worn out.”

Curry’s comment about the lack of commercial products to support implementation caught my attention. Two-thirds of the teachers surveyed by Scholastic said they had sought out materials on their own.  And both teachers and district leaders seem to be in agreement that more high-quality professional development is needed.

CEP – a Washington, D.C.-based think tank —  has been tracking Common Core implementation, and school leaders’ attitudes about it, since 2010. You can find all of the related reports here. (I spoke with CEP’s deputy director, Diane Stark Rentner, about the ongoing research as part of our Five Questions series last year.)

Some questions to consider when interpreting these survey results: How should we weigh enthusiasm for the standards against the very real concerns about translating that attitude into effective classroom instruction that reflects the Common Core? Some degree of difficulty in implementing the standards is probably inevitable, given the size and scope of the initiative. But how are districts and states responding to the concerns raised by both teachers and district leadership about the lack of professional development and support, as well as the apparent lack of quality instructional materials pegged to the standards? And where policymakers are responding, is their response sufficient?

For more on this issue, take a look at the EWA Topics Page on the Common Core.  You can also catch up with video highlights from the 2014 National Seminar session examining the standards. 



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