Cincinnati is a Buckeye State leader when it comes to implementing the Common Core. This became clear yesterday during a conversation with national, state and local leaders in education, philanthropy and business. Cincinnati Public Schools is well into the nitty gritty of implementing the new Common Core academic standards in English Language Arts and mathematics. Teachers across the district are already receiving substantial support from the district, from the local teachers’ union and from the General Electric Foundation and other supporters on how to change their classroom practices to meet the higher and more rigorous academic standards that will be implemented across the state during the 2014-15 school year.

Nearly one hundred education stakeholders from across the Queen City heard from leaders in the Common Core effort. Mike Cohen, president of Achieve (one of the national organizations leading the multi-state standards initiative), shared information on the how states across the country are working to implement the Common Core. Bob Corcoran, President and Chairman of the GE Foundation, spoke of the global marketplace in which GE competes and of how students need to be prepared for the jobs and opportunities of the future. Corcoran shared his view that successful implementation of the Common Core is critical for the success of the country and its students. Former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education (and Fordham Board member) David Driscoll shared implementation lessons from the Massachusetts’ miracle, and pointed out that high standards and aligned assessments with rigorous cut scores are critical to improved student achievement, but even more important is adjusting what happens in the classrooms to meet these standards.

Panelists (from left to right): Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers' Katie Hofmann, Fordham Board Member David Driscoll, GE Foundation's Bob Corcoran, Achieve's Mike Cohen.

The message throughout the conversation was clear: high school graduates in the United States are more often than not entering college unprepared for post-secondary work, requiring remediation that is both costly and prone to deter students from completing their degrees. Further, today’s job market requires some level of rigorous post-secondary work, and tomorrow’s will demand even more. Students must come out of high school able to read critically, reason critically, think logically, synthesize material and solve problems creatively. The consensus was that the Common Core Standards in math and English language arts (with science on the way as well) go a long way toward righting the ship of American education.

However, as Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Checker Finn pointed out, even the very best standards are not self-administering. “Implementation,” he said, “is a very big deal.”

Fortunately for Cincinnati they are ahead of the curve. A panel that included Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronin, Katie Hofmann of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (along with Driscoll, Corcoran and Cohen), and acting State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers, spoke of local and state efforts to start preparing teachers, students and the larger community for the more rigorous Common Core. Ronan and Hoffman shared how they are working with Cincinnati teachers, principals and administrators to put into place plans and programs to help teachers integrate the Common Core into their curricula, instructional practices, learning materials and professional development. The state department is working with districts and charter schools across the state to help them, but it is clear some districts in Ohio are much further along than others. (All panelists agreed that the bar for student success will be much higher when the Common Core comes fully on-line and that is why it is critical to begin preparation now (or even better to have begun preparing last year!)

As Eve Bolton, President of the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education, put it, “This is as big as it gets in education.” She called on the support of everyone in the room – business, education, advocates, think tanks, parents, higher ed – to make certain that the will to move forward doesn’t waver as the going gets tough. Michael Sawyers pointed out that he firmly believes Ohio’s children can absolutely stand up and meet the higher standards, but he worries that the adults may get in the way when the going gets tough and test scores initially fall.

State Board of Education President Debe Terhar echoed these sentiments, and argued that the process of implementing the Common Core has to focus on the ultimate goal. Improving student achievement and giving children in Cincinnati and across the state a better shot at success. “Our children will succeed,” she said. “We must trust them with high standards.”

See additional coverage of the Common Core event at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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