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September 09, 2009
October 09, 2009
This post is adapted from comments delivered at the Manhattan Institute’s Curriculum Counts! event.
If Common Core is really going to "change everything," we must focus on what these standards mean for teaching and learning.
Photo by horizontal.integration
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of school reform: systemic reform and classroom-level reform.
Systemic reforms are those aimed at reimagining school systems, and they include things like charter schools, vouchers, portfolio districts, and even accountability and some systemic teacher-evaluation policies. Classroom-level reforms, by contrast, are those aimed at actually changing what happens in the classroom. They focus, for example, on changing what is taught, how it is taught, or even how student mastery of essential content and skills is measured.
Over the past decade, education reformers have focused the lion’s share of our attention on systemic reform—to the point where conversations about Common Core implementation are often even dominated by how the standards will impact things like state accountability, teacher evaluation, certification, and on.
Of course, those are all important. But if Common Core is really going to “change everything,” we need first and foremost to focus on what these new standards mean for teaching and learning.
Yet, in many ways, the classroom is a black box to systemic reformers. While many leaders have made it their business to understand inputs and student achievement outputs, too few have focused their attention of what it takes to drive achievement within the four walls of an American classroom.
There are many reasons for this. For instance, you sometimes need to shake up the system in order to set the stage for classroom-level change. But another reason is that, while driving systemic reform means influencing state departments of education and district offices, classroom-level reform necessitates touching teaching and learning in more than 3 million classrooms. Yet, while classroom-level reform is far more complicated, it is classroom-level changes—those that directly impact teachers and students, curriculum and instruction—that hold the greatest promise for our students.
Of course, there are many nations that have recognized the promise of classroom-level reform practice, and they’ve simply forced changes. National education bureaucracies have made decisions about curriculum and pedagogy, and they’ve dictated what must be taught and how it should be delivered. America obviously—and to its great credit—has a far less centralized education system, grounded in deep respect for local control and autonomy. But while that allows our schools to more nimbly respond to the needs of students and communities, it adds another layer of complexity to the challenge of influencing what students learn and whether all children are held to equally rigorous expectations.
And while we have made significant progress in pushing systemic reform—particularly in places where visionary reform leaders are at the helm (i.e., Florida, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and on)—we’ve made comparatively little progress reaching beyond and into the black box to influence classroom-level change.
Moving forward, if we want Common Core to more directly impact teaching and learning, we’d do well to focus our implementation efforts on three things:
In the end, it is exactly because Common Core is pushing reformers to take classroom-level change more seriously that it has the potential to have such far-reaching impact. But realizing this potential means accepting that, so far, our efforts may be falling short of what the moment requires.