Recently, Californians have seen a noticeable spike in media coverage about Common Core standards and assessments. With 3 million students participating in the Smarter Balanced field test, the increase is not surprising. Missing from most of the coverage, though, is an update on our state’s progress with Common Core implementation and an honest evaluation of the work ahead.
We have come a long way since the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards in 2010. The transition requires comprehensive policy changes. Policy changes thus far have helped streamline systems that were outdated or out of sync with how 21st century school systems should operate.
In addition to Common Core standards in English language arts and math, we have adopted new English language development standards and an implementation plan. We have also adopted the Next Generation Science Standards to improve science education and to better prepare and engage students in more in-depth science, computing and engineering courses. Our goal is to ensure that all students graduate prepared for college and careers.
An Instructional Quality Commission is facilitating the transition to new Common Core-aligned curricular frameworks and instructional materials. The Math Framework and instructional materials have been adopted, and the State Board will act on the English Language Arts and English Language Development Framework in July. The state has also eliminated unnecessary and costly state regulations about instructional material purchases so school districts can choose any instructional materials they want to use that are aligned to Common Core.
California has empowered local communities to make decisions about how school funds are spent. The new Local Control Funding Formula requires parent and community engagement in decision-making, and increases funding specifically to improve academic achievement of English learners, low-income students and foster youth. This historic change reduced the number of state categorical programs from 62 to 18. Moreover, we made more than a quarter of the 12-volume Education Code redundant through the elimination of categorical program restrictions and state micromanagement.
Increased funding has helped support local priorities, new programs and innovative strategies to better prepare and engage students under Common Core. The governor and lawmakers provided $1.25 billion for instructional materials, teacher professional development and technology upgrades for Common Core implementation. Linked Learning and California Partnership Academies combine academics with an engaging real-world learning environment. The $250 million California Career Pathways Trust strengthens job training programs in industries in need of skilled workers.
We have considerable work to do to streamline our assessment system and ensure we are measuring the right things in educationally useful ways. We’ve taken a first step by eliminating unnecessary tests, abolishing the California Modified Assessment for students with disabilities, and including all students in a more integrated system. We’ve reduced testing time by more than half. As we move forward, technology will help enhance assessments, provide more rapid feedback to teachers, students and families, and improve opportunities to integrate it into classroom instruction.
Across the board, initiatives have been set in motion to further Common Core implementation. We established a statewide task force to rethink how we serve students with disabilities, guide transformation of programs, and improve outcomes. A statewide plan is under way to steer higher education’s participation in the Common Core transition, addressing assessment, teacher development and undergraduate education.
The course we’ve set in California is to carefully phase in change according to growth in state and local capacity. Common Core implementation is a multiyear effort that changes almost all state and local policies as well as curriculum and instruction. Policy changes are relatively straightforward compared with the monumental shifts that teachers and students face in the classroom.
Ongoing concerns about time to prepare and collaborate and the need for aligned instructional materials, technology training and resources are justified and must be addressed. We need to ensure that teachers have a leading role in Common Core implementation plans at the local level, so together we can identify emerging issues and strengthen existing initiatives. The future success of Common Core will require continued support that enables teachers to instruct students successfully in each classroom.
Mike Kirst is president of California’s State Board of Education. He is professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University. He has been on the Stanford faculty since 1969.
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