June 20, 2013
The Council of the Great City Schools was a strong supporter of the concept of Common Core State Standards even before the current benchmarks were developed. And since their development, the coalition of the nation’s largest urban public school districts has devoted considerable energy to implementing the new guidelines in its member districts.
Nonetheless, implementation is uneven in many city school systems, due partly to varying approaches to putting these new standards into place, partly to differing capacities, and partly to inconsistent support from states. It appears, however, that most city school systems are farther along than most other school districts in their respective states.
This jump-start on the implementation process came about because major city school leaders gave early backing to the standards, and each city played a strong role in helping their peers.
By the end of the 2011–12 school year, Council surveys showed that most city school districts had written implementation plans, and some 87 percent anticipated having the standards in all schools and grades by 2014–15. To be sure, this does not mean the standards will be fully implanted, but that cities will have the first phase of their implementation in place.
Our surveys also showed that implementation is going faster in the elementary grades than at the secondary level and that the speed of implementation is about the same for both English language arts and mathematics. In addition, the majority of cities—88 percent—reported involving their teachers in the implementation to a great extent, but all agreed that this did not mean that most teachers were ready to teach the standards. Interestingly, cities that indicated they had structures like professional-learning communities in place were most likely to report that their school-based staffs were prepared to teach the standards. Finally, our surveys showed that about two-thirds of the cities are devoting extensive time this school year to revising their curricula, and many are using the Publishers’ Criteria to guide decisions on textbook purchases.
On the other hand, most city school systems saw little involvement by their states in the local implementation process, and few districts included their higher education communities in the implementation. This is an all too frequent situation but one that will need to be reversed if the common core is to be sustained over the long run.
At the moment, city school systems showing particularly strong leadership in the implementation process include New York City, the District of Columbia, Albuquerque, Long Beach, and Boston—but there continues to be a great deal of work to do everywhere.
Problems continue to exist due to staff turnover, inadequate technology, poor coordination at all levels, competing priorities and budget cuts, and uncertainty about what good implementation looks like, among other challenges. The Council is working with its members to help balance these demands, develop implementation tools, and coordinate with the assessment consortia to address foreseeable problems.
Still, the Common Core has pumped new energy and optimism into many urban school systems as they see the standards offering a fresh start on a more equal playing field.
To see the Council’s 2012 survey report, Implementing the Common Core State Standards in Urban Public Schools, go here.