State Superintendent's New Blueprint Clears Up Dangerous Myths on Common Core

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards is one of the most important issues in education policy today. Here in California, we have struggled to figure out the best way to put these important ideas into action. I'd like to share with you an interesting piece by a high school teacher from Los Angeles on this process, and specifically on State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson's task force proposal, "A Blueprint for Great Schools." This teacher, Xochitl Gilkeson, presents some interesting ideas about the need to get Common Core right - for her fellow educators, for administrators, and for teachers and parents.

State Superintendent's New Blueprint Clears Up Dangerous Myths on Common Core

As a high school English teacher, I often tell my students that good readers read like "detectives"--they use textual evidence, focus on context clues, and identify how a narrator is conveying information. So to me, the value of the Common Core State Standards -- which encourages students to do precisely those things -- is crystal clear. With a focus placed on teaching students how to make logical inferences based on evidence, teachers have been given guideposts for helping them navigate greater text complexity. Some people still seem confused, though, by what is and isn't Common Core.

A recent PDK/Gallup poll shows this contrast. In a national poll of 1,000 adults, more than 60% of respondents say that setting high expectations for students is important, but 54% oppose the Common Core State Standards - a system designed to do exactly that. By holding our students to a higher standard and teaching them how to build a skill set and transfer it to a new context, we give them an ability to learn that will extend into their life beyond school. This is what we all want for our students, and, whatever you think of Common Core implementation, this is exactly what it is meant to do.

My students' parents are eager to assist in the academic success of their children. But with some parents seeing too much of a top-down approach, and feeling an absence of a clear message about the value of Common Core from the state, our communities are having trouble seeing its benefit. Instead, they may be hearing from voices in the media that are telling them Common Core myths rather than facts. This message vacuum is one reason I was eager to read State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson's new task force proposal, A Blueprint for Great Schools: Version 2.0. How would this task force imagine the state's role in providing a world-class education for all of California's students?

I was pleased to discover that the proposed action plan acknowledges Common Core implementation work that remains to be done and the need for a statewide vision and message of the purpose of Common Core. The plan proposes multiple forms of support for teachers and suggests leveraging partnerships with institutions of higher learning and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to do so. Notably, the task force calls upon the California Department of Education to improve communication with all stakeholders. This is great news for our students' families, who should hear why community leaders are excited about how Common Core will ensure our students graduate college-and-career ready. Furthermore, the stronger statewide capacity proposed will level the playing field for all students, from ensuring students receive the supports they needs in inclusion settings to establishing an English learning master plan to reducing the impact of the digital divide.

All of these ideas will help us move closer to achieving the vision of Common Core implementation. But what is missing is a data system that will allow all stakeholders to see how far we've come and how far we still need to go. I've joined other teachers through the Los Angeles chapter of Educators 4 Excellence to call for the creation of a data strategist office that would analyze and produce timely data results to districts for state assessments, while also providing a platform for districts to upload and share local assessments. Currently, our state seems to recognize the need for high quality professional learning opportunities to prepare teachers, but does not have a statewide data system that will inform instruction, establish priorities for professional learning, and provide tools for accountability.

State-provided access to data would help identify areas of needs and disseminate information to educators, parents and students alike, casting a light where local capacity is weak. For instance, Tennessee's Department of Education online system allows teachers to view data continuously. This portal access has become a valuable planning and instruction tool and has coincided with three consecutive gains on statewide assessments. Students in California will benefit greatly if our state sets clear benchmarks along the way to show a school's growth from the previous year.

My E4E-LA policy team dug into the research on best practices around Common Core implementation. We surveyed hundreds of our colleagues, students, and parents and generated recommendations on the roles our state, district, union and schools could play in the transition.

Since the report's release in May, we have been asking to meet with legislators across the state to discuss the importance of a clear vision and message for Common Core, as well as clear data to ground us. We have found, however, that many legislators believe that the state's role in Common Core implementation is "done," with the standards put in place and teachers now left to fend for themselves. Though the state has budgeted for Common Core and included Common Core funding in the Local Control Funding Formula, it has abdicated its role as vision-setter. It makes sense to let districts/LEAs determine what implementation and accountability should look like at the school level, but it is up to the state to communicate a wide-reaching message about how Common Core helps educators close the achievement gap. But, as the new PDK/Gallup poll shows, teachers and parents can see that it's clear that we are still far from the Common Core finish line. Teachers, parents, students and community members are all counting on the state to help us get there.

Xochitl Gilkeson is an English teacher at El Camino Real Charter High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.