Jeffrey Villar
Ramani Ayer

Recently, Connecticut has seen intense debate around the Common Core State Standards. In the face of compelling data that show our existing system of education is not up to snuff, there is now a general consensus about the need to raise academic standards. However, considerable anxiety has arisen over Connecticut’s readiness to implement the Common Core effectively. The concern is valid, since state support was initially anemic and district capacity for implementation is still uneven.

Instead of playing the blame game, we should concentrate on moving those districts that are behind in implementation forward.

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The Educators’ Common Core Implementation Taskforce, which met for the second time on April 9th, has been asked to come up with methods of strengthening Common Core implementation. As the Taskforce examines this issue, we recommended the following ideas for their consideration:

1)  Districts need to know that the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) will lead a statewide strategy for implementation. When Common Core was first adopted, the CSDE lacked capacity to properly support implementation. It needed to transform itself from a policy monitoring entity to a capacity enhancing leader. Since then, the CSDE has come a long way:

  • Dianna Roberge-Wentzell was hired for the newly created Chief Academic Officer position in 2012, and was tasked with supporting districts in their transition to the Common Core.
  • The Academic Office now provides districts with a monthly newsletter about Common Core implementation.
  • The CSDE has created an impressive Connecticut Core Standards website.
  • In July of 2014, the CSDE and LearnZillion will guide 1,700 Connecticut teachers through the process of creating high-quality, standards-based tools, and will build a professional learning community. The resources they produce will be available to all Connecticut educators.

2) The CSDE must still do more to lead districts in implementing Common Core:

  • Assist districts in identifying authentically aligned Common Core textbooks and other instructional materials.
  • Provide content experts to assist districts in developing model curriculums, interim assessments, and aligned resources.
  • Facilitate additional professional development opportunities for teachers and district personnel.
  • Communicate with all citizens about the importance and purpose of Common Core in Connecticut. The burden of explaining these changes should not rest solely on districts.

3) Local boards of education must ensure that their districts have plans for implementing Common Core. They must oversee collaboration between district leaders and teachers in the development of curriculums that are aligned with state and district standards.

4) Local boards of education must require the integration of technology into daily instruction. Students are highly engaged by the inclusion of technology in their classrooms. These tools and skills are absolutely necessary for their future successes.

5) Local boards of education must involve parents in the process of implementation. Every school should host events in which parents can learn about the changes to curriculums.

6) District and school leaders must set aside time for professional development. Educators need time to understand the new instructional units and collaboratively develop aligned assessments. After units have been piloted, districts must adjust them based upon feedback from teachers.

7) Districts must make Common Core implementation a top priority. They must allocate resources and focus on this process for multiple years, without getting distracted by other initiatives.

8) Districts must be vigilant in selecting materials and curriculums that are truly aligned with the Common Core. Publishers will want to market their materials as aligned. But educators must be included in the reviewing process to make sure that materials actually are aligned.

9) Districts should collaborate instead of doing this work on their own. In addition to support now being provided by the CSDE, districts can turn to Regional Educational Service Centers (RESCs), which facilitate collaboration and technical assistance between districts.

10) We can’t get discouraged when implementation is rocky. Notwithstanding our best efforts, we should expect a difficult few years as our public schools adjust to these changes. Despite inevitable difficulties, we must remain firm in our resolve there is too much at stake.

Let’s stop the rhetoric and misinformation, and start focusing on implementation. Let’s rally behind our educators as they tackle the very important work of preparing every child to succeed in the globally competitive 21st century.

Jeffrey Villar is executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), and the former superintendent of Windsor Public Schools. Ramani Ayer is vice chairman of CCER’s Board of Directors, and the retired chairman of The Hartford.

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