The State of State Education

Last week, during President Obama's State of the Union address we heard him praise some of the important state-driven work to "raise expectations and performance" for our students. Working for an organization that represents state education officials across the country, I have the privilege of seeing the unique genius of the American political system -- with our states as largely independent incubators for ideas, innovations and approaches -- at work every day.

That's one reason why I think it's valuable to drill down into the details of some of the incredible work individual states are doing to implement new education standards, roll out more sophisticated assessments of student learning, prepare new educators for the classroom and better support educators already teaching, and to more fully understand the ingredients that make for a great teacher.

Let's be honest, these endeavors are complicated. It is hard work and in some places it is getting messy as people dig into the realities of these changes. It is critical for us as a country to stay committed to this course. As we continue the hard work of helping all students succeed, it's important to remind ourselves that this process, as loud and messy as it will sometimes get, need not be seen as a sign of some dark conspiracy or looming disaster. This is our American system at work -- and it does work.

In California, for instance, the state has committed $1.25 billion in grant funding to help school districts with Common Core implementation, including the purchase of new instructional materials. And last month, the California Department of Education released a list of more than 30 Common Core-aligned mathematics materials, which individual districts can review to determine which best meet the needs of students and purchase using grant funds.

In the next couple of months, many states will conduct a field test -- or practice run -- of the new assessments aligned to the Common Core with a representative group of students. Idaho has elected to administer the field test to all students and will be able to avoid students being double-tested on both the field test and Idaho's current end of year assessment. It will also accelerate Idaho's move away from assessments and scores that will no longer align with their new state standards.

And in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working to help better prepare and support new and experienced teachers by launching the Educator Effectiveness Teacher Cabinet. Similar to their existing principal cabinets, this group will engage teachers from across Massachusetts to ensure their feedback and suggestions help refine and shape the state's education policies and initiatives.

Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington are leading changes in key policy areas to ensure every educator is ready on day one of their career to prepare their students for college, work and life through CCSSO's Network for Transforming Educator Preparation. These states are at the forefront of making key changes in the policy and practice of educator preparation. Over the next two years they will work closely with educators, preparation programs, institutions of higher education, nonprofit and for-profit education providers, districts and schools to improve the way we prepare our educator workforce.

As these examples illustrate, the states are brimming with fresh ideas and flexible approaches for driving continuous improvement in American education. They also make clear that, contrary to the claims of some critics, the important education reforms now underway don't reflect a narrow obsession with test scores, or a perverse desire to punish the public servants we entrust with the education of our children, and by extension, the future of our country.

Instead, I want you to see what I see -- a widely shared commitment to providing students the kind of high-quality education that every day becomes more requisite for individual success, for states' economic health, and for our country's global competitiveness.

As I said before this won't be easy, the work is too important. Not every person is, or will be, comfortable with the changes underway. As we've seen with the Common Core, some critics will be fair, some will be harsh, and some will deliberately distort what is happening, and why. From the opinion pages to Sunday talk shows to the floors of state legislatures, these changes will continue to be deliberated and debated, even as they are underway. These conversations are important and provide opportunities to reflect on the work and make necessary adjustments to ensure these changes have the intended positive impact on student learning. And there will surely be bumps along the way, as there always are when even the most carefully laid plans collide with the realities of politics, budgets, unintended consequences and unforeseen obstacles.

I'm looking forward to all of the challenges and triumphs that 2014 will bring.