Harvard’s Askwith Forum on Common Core Implementation

On Monday night, Sheri attended an Askwith forum at Harvard Graduate School of Education with guests John King Jr. and Mitchell Chester, commissioners of education in New York and Massachusetts, respectively. The topic of discussion was the implementation of the Common Core—not the merits or criticisms of the standards, but the implementation. Here are some highlights from the discussion:

Timeline (awkward transitional period)

A big point of pain is the speed of the roll out of the standards and the corresponding tests that go with them. Some parents are upset that the new tests are effectively being tested on their children. In reply to that, John King told a story about how he visited a school in upstate New York. When asked about the standards, a teacher told him that she thought they were great, but she had the Regents exam, the NY state test, to worry about first so she couldn’t worry about the Common Core standards. “The reality is that people do what’s measured.” Without accountability from testing, teachers won’t have incentive to teach to the standards.

We can’t “put [kids’] education on hold until the education system figures out how to deliver a better education system,” Mitchell Chester said. We can’t wait for all the stars to align before rolling out an innovation.

“There’s always going to be a year 1 and all the anxiety and challenge that comes with it.” said King.

What how who

John King described the New York State implementation as having a “what-how-who” problem.

What do you teach? Do you teach the same curriculum, and does that curriculum hit the standards? Do educators have the right materials to meet these standards? We can’t rely textbooks with the “CCSS approved” stickers. Teachers still have to align their instruction to the standards.

How are you going to change your teaching? Do educators know how to execute these standards? Do they understand concepts well enough to help students achieve a deep level of understanding prescribe by the standards? If not, then the how problem becomes a time problem. Do you have the time and resources to get teachers to the level they need to be at?

Who are we teaching? We have students who are struggling with the current standards, and now we are asking them to master even more rigorous standards. Again, do we have the resources to support struggling students? In the middle of a national financial crisis, do we have the resources to handle these students?


Like schools, vendors are aligning their materials to the Common Core. But as we mentioned, the “Common Core approved” sticker isn’t, by itself, a solution to rolling out the Common Core. New York, RI, and Massachusetts have developed a rubric to help teachers evaluate their materials, to determine if they’re Common Core ready.

How do you deal with the Common Core rollout in your classroom? What are your pain points? Which strategies work have worked? 

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