Bringing order to Common Core

Classroom teachers, school administrators, a former state superintendent of public instruction, and two legislators will comprise the new Instructional Quality Commission, which will be the eyes and ears for the State Board of Education on the Common Core standards and will help guide the daunting effort to implement them over the next three-plus years.

As its name implies, the Commission’s mission will be broader than the body it has replaced, the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, which had a more orderly, sequential role in the process of adopting state standards, curriculum frameworks and the teacher training and textbooks that followed.

By contract, California faces a truncated, potentially messy process of making the transition to Common Core. The State Board adopted the standards, which all but five states have now approved, in August 2010. Common Core assessments in math and English language arts, now being developed by a consortium of states, are scheduled to be given in the spring of 2015. The Commission’s main charge is to create and recommend curriculum frameworks, translating broad standards into more specific guides for grade-by-grade curriculums, to the State Board over the next two years: math in November 2013 and English language arts in May 2014. Meanwhile, districts shouldn’t be waiting around – and many aren’t – to start training teachers in Common Core and searching for materials to use.

“It’s like parallel processing. People are doing things, and they need stuff now,” said Bill Honig, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1983-1993, who is one of the 13 Commission members that the State Board approved earlier this month, out of 128 people who applied.* State Board President Michael Kirst has asked Honig, president of the Berkeley-based school consultancy CORE (not to be confused with the reform district collaborative by the same name), to organize the agenda and prepare commissioners for its first meeting in June.

The State Board and the state Department of Education will have a new and diminished role over Common Core, compared with adoption of state standards in the ’90s. Then it was a Sacramento-driven process, and the State Board could dictate the content of textbooks and materials. Now the standards are uniform, with a few important exceptions, and other states, especially the Race to the Top winners, are moving faster than California in creating curriculum guidelines. Teachers, through social networks, YouTube, online courses, and blogs (here’s just one), are sharing lessons and approaches to teacher training.

National standards could lead to the dominance of a few publishers or an explosion of free and cheap materials by software entrepreneurs. A formal textbook adoption process remains the law, but it will be a dinosaur by the time the State Board completes the 30-month review process years from now.

In its place will be a voluntary interim materials adoption process in which publishers will submit Common Core aligned materials for review later this year. Districts technically will be limited to using state lottery proceeds and discretionary money to buy the materials, but district administrators with budgeting finesse will figure out how to spend what’s left of the textbook account on whatever they want.

Honig says the Commission will be on the lookout for what other states and local districts are doing well; that will inform the frameworks process.

The state’s role will be clearinghouse,” he said. “Common Core will not be a state-run effort. There are not enough people to do that.” (For more information on Common Core, including the state’s 265-page plan for implementing Common Core, go here.)

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has estimated implementing Common Core will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, between new textbooks and professional development – money the state and districts don’t have. But Honig, a strong Common Core supporter, says there is a “very strong consensus” in California on what needs to be done – even if some districts are waiting for the state for guidance.

Still, there will be areas of contention, particularly on the subject of eighth grade math. In adopting Common Core, the state could supplement national standards up an additional, vaguely defined, 15 percent. Particularly in math, the State Board shifted some standards to lower grades and added California’s full set of algebra standards to Common Core’s eighth grade standards, creating a jumble that first the Commission and eventually the State Board must sort out. The Commission also must figure how the frameworks will incorporate California’s supplemental standards,  how materials will address them, and how the state will then test them. (If they’re not assessed, then teachers won’t teach them.)

This summer the State Board, on the advice of the Commission, will appoint experts in math and English language arts to the Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee. It will do the detailed work on the frameworks for the Commission, which will in turn begin a six-month review process before the State Board adoption.

Seventeen of the Commission’s 18 members have been named; only the governor’s appointment is still vacant. Along with Honig, the members are:

  • Angel Barrett, Principal, Plummer Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified;
  • Krystn Bennett, 1st grade Classroom Teacher, Santa Paula Elementary School District;
  • Jose Dorado, Instructional Coach in math, Los Angeles Unified;
  • Edward D’Souza, Senior Director, Professional Development and Induction, Rialto Unified;
  • Angienette Estonina, English Language Support Services Teacher on Special Assignment and Co-director of the Literature Project at University of California, Berkeley;
  • Lori Freiermuth, High School Math Teacher, Sweetwater Union High School Distirct;
  • Marlene Galvan, English Language Arts District Coach, Dinuba Unified;
  • Michelle Herczog, Consultant in History-Social Science, Los Angeles County Office of Education;
  • Martha Hernandez, Director, Curriculum, Instruction & Continuous Improvement, Ventura County Office of Education;
  • Jo Ann Isken, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for Lennox School District;
  • Nancy McTygue, Executive Director, California History-Social Science Project at UC Davis;
  • Socorro Shiels, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, Morgan Hill Unified;
  • Julie Spykerman, Math Curriculum Specialist, Anaheim Union High School District;
  • Lauryn Wild, Secondary Education Specialist for English Language Arts, Social Studies and CAHSEE for the San Bernardino City Unified School District;
  • Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto;
  • Senator Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach

* Honig is a member of the Top-Ed Advisory Board.

This entry was posted in Common Core standards on by .

About John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

15 thoughts on “Bringing order to Common Core

  1. Bea

    As a parent, a taxpayer and a voter facing competing initiatives and deep cuts to our neighborhood schools, I want – nay demand! – a cost/benefit analysis.
    I have yet to see an accurate needs assessment for the technology requirements for the online testing that is tied into adoption of Common Core standards. The SMARTER folk told the SBE in a hearing that the average school district in CA would need to hire five new full time  permanent IT employees just to manage the technology — technology that many schools have yet to acquire.
    From where I sit, this feels an awful lot like the testing and textbook companies looking for a post NCLB bump. They profited handsomely, but that gravy train is reaching the station. So, now: Common Core.
    It’s a simple question: Is Common Core worth it?

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    1. John Fensterwald - Educated Guess Post author

      Bea: I believe a technology assessment will be completed this year. My guess is that it may be a few years before there is computer adaptive tests in CA or perhaps most states — assuming SMARTER Balanced can deliver them on time.
      I don’t recall the 5 new IT employees being cited. I checked with Deputy State Supt. Deb Sigman, and she doesn’t know what you are referring to.

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  2. Stephanie Dingman

    I checked the link above to see who is developing curriculum and ideas for teacher training on blogs.  A big piece that is missing is a specialist in child development.  Further experimentation on our children, especially our youngest ones, by implementing this new “panacea” to fix something that poor leadership and erroneous research  under Reading First and NCLB  wrought on a generation of students is just WRONG!

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  3. Deborah Perreli

    I am with the blogger known as Bea, above. Where is the evidence. In fact, there is none to support the common core.  This sounds like a money grab – public funds going to private coffers and our kids will pay.
    Check out this article by  Christopher Tienken from Seton Hall University. I saw him speak in Houston, Texas recently about this. Interesting.  Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making.

    It should be the first article in this issue:

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  4. pamzella

    As a former teacher, I’m excited by the description in the language arts standards that makes me think we might make a break from anthologies that take the meat out of a good story in order to make it fit a 5-day reading cycle.  But Deborah, I would like to thank you for posting Tienken’s thoughts, as it includes some good criticism, even though near the ending on page 13 he’s going to lose some people with more pie-in-the-sky hopes for education reform.  “It is terribly naïve to think that all children should be made to master the same set of academic skills and knowledge and that it would actually benefit them or a country in the long run to do so.  It is an Orwellian policy position that …believes it is appropriate to force children to fit the system instead of the system adjusting to the needs of the child.”  Considering the reformers and politicians to this point interested in telling everyone else what’s wrong with education and how teachers should do their jobs truly believe children are widgets, the Common Core consortium proposing anything radically different rather than an alignment of disjointed state-level standards would not gain any traction anywhere.  The standards do emphasize writing more and reorganize math some, two areas industry has identified as interfering with hiring the workforce they want and that higher education complains about, too.
    The real question is- why in 2012 are so many of our schools in California still without computers?  Any computers?   If computers are essential to 21st century citizenship, all our students should have access to computers for academically motivated, academically justified purposes.  I’m not saying Yahoo!Games after school, but our kids need to know how to type, not pick-type, so they can write thoughts without getting tied up the mechanics of querty.  When we talk about budget cuts, and asking schools to make do with less year after year, we are talking about computers that go from obsolete to non-functioning electronic waste, with no money for replacements.  New textbooks every 7-10 years might look beat-up, but computers 7 years old, if still able to turn on, are dinosaurs.  If we’re going to make demands, it should be for computers for kids to use all year in their schools and become competent in their use, and they’ll be there for testing or whatever else the state demands every May.  And yes, every district should have some IT people, because teachers can’t teach in a lab and be the lab tech support at the same time, and because most students are minors and there are many issues with adapting to 21st century ways of doing things while protecting their privacy as minors and small people who need time to learn about the good and the bad of the internet.

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  5. el

    pamzella, I suspect all schools have some computers, but they don’t necessarily have broadband and they may only have a lab suitable for 30 kids at a time, with maybe one computer per classroom past that. 30 kids at a time is enough to run a computer class, but you can’t expect to give state exams 30 kids at a time and no other teachers would be able to run computer-based lessons.
    Given how tight budgets have been since 2007, it’s likely that few schools have replaced machines since then. It’s also true that software licenses are probably running as much or more than the hardware is.

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  6. Navigio

    Just an FYI, the cde metrics for ‘computers’ is time-limited. In other word after a certain number of years (4 I believe) even a functioning computer is not considered a computer from a measurement standpoint. This measure may be valid from a technology standpoint, but it really depend on what the computer is being used for. At minimum, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no computer there.

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  7. Bea

    My understanding is that assessment is taking place right now. I know our district has not begun, as they are not clear yet on the needs.
    The citation was during a live webcast of a hearing before the SBE where both the SMARTER and PARCC teams were present. It was before the SBE/CDE settled on SMARTER. The question was posed by SBE member Chan. Her question was trying to get at what kind of technological and human resources would be required to conduct and process online assessments. The response was 5 FTE IT staff for on-going support in an average California school district, separate from ramping up to launch. There was no discussion about what constitutes an average district. There wasn’t a response to the actual physical technology needs or the data access needs.
    Whether or not the Dept Sup remembers the instance, the question still needs to be addressed and it has not been asked or addressed frequently, publicly nor thoroughly enough.
    My understanding is that districts are to pilot online assessment as early as Spring 2013, with everything in place by 2014. Giving purchasing cycles, budgeting procedures and demand for limited financial resources, those needs must be clarified as soon as possible.

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  8. pamzella

    el, I hear you and I wish I could agree, but there are schools in San Jose with no computer labs or mobile labs or computers for students in any classrooms.   Other schools have computer labs, but they still have no high-speed internet.  This year, 2011-2012.  You are right, that it will take more than the bare minimum to test a school, but computer adaptive tests as proposed will not take the many hours that current standardized testing takes, and because each student will not have the same question and the same time, it will not be necessary to test all students at the same time to ensure integrity of the test.  For sure, not testing at the same time mean logistical issues like controlling for distractions such as noise, not testing in the afternoons when kids’ attention may not be 100%, etc. but it will mean that more students can be accommodated without a 1:1 ratio for all testing grades all year long.

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  9. el

    pamzella, I think we agree wholeheartedly that having broadband and a solid base of computers is essential to any kind of computer based testing scheme and that (a) not all California schools have either in place and (b) no one advocating for or planning for these tests seems to be aware that that would be an essential first step.
    I read the whole RTTT document, a couple hundred pages, about how great these computerized testing schemes would be, that unicorns would run free frolicking with the kittens across a rainbow-hued field of happy fun. Hundreds of pages and hundreds of millions of dollars, and no mention of nor budget for this essential infrastructure.

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  10. Paul

    “…[H]ow great these computerized testing schemes would be … unicorns would run free frolicking with the kittens across a rainbow-hued field of happy fun. Hundreds of pages and hundreds of millions of dollars, and no mention of nor budget for this essential infrastructure.”
    I couldn’t have said it better myself, el. When the experts realize that typical schools will need new/more computers and more bandwidth, just watch them put hundreds of millions of dollars into those items, without budgeting a penny to install electrical outlets. I have taught in many a 1950s/1960s room with just one or two outlets. I can see boxes full of new computers sitting in storage rooms, there being no place to plug them in.

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  11. el

    Oh yes, the outlets. Even people savvy enough to think of getting fiber laid to get broadband fail to consider that classrooms were never designed to handle dozens of electrical items. Not only do you have to wire the outlets, but you have the consideration of power in the middle of the room, and simply producing enough circuits and amps.
    One solution is to use iPads or laptops, and then have a charging cart and wheel that cart to a special place that has enough juice to charge all 30 (or 40) at once. Of course, if you use the equipment like that, not even counting for dropped laptops and tablets, you’l need to replace those $150 batteries annually best case scenario.

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