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Richard Stopol: Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core

New York City is to be applauded for its full embrace of the Common Core Learning Standards. As an early adopter, the City is helping lead the way in a nationwide effort to ensure that all students, regardless of background or circumstance, are prepared for college and 21st-century careers.  With its emphasis on in-depth, real-world learning and the development of skills such as critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, effective communication, and collaborative problem-solving, the Common Core is an important tool in readying our students for success in an increasingly interconnected and information-driven world.  

But an embrace of the Common Core, however full-bodied, is not enough. For this new set of standards to fully deliver on its promise, there are two things that the new City administration must do above all.  

First, it must fully resource and carefully steward the process of Common Core implementation. This includes developing high-quality curricular materials and assessments that are clearly aligned to the new standards. It also includes deep investments in supporting teachers to master the instructional shifts that the Common Core requires. The City should not underestimate how dramatically new standards, new curriculum and new assessments will reshape instruction. And it should recognize that instructional changes of this magnitude can only take root if teachers have access to outstanding professional development and coaching from experts in translating the Common Core into classroom practice.

While the City and State have begun redesigning curriculum and assessments, the process hasn’t been without glitches. Last year’s NY State ELA and Math tests were billed as the first ever to be Common Core-aligned, but that billing proved somewhat misleading.  Although the tests were more demanding, they weren’t necessarily more attuned to assessing the skills and knowledge that the Common Core promotes.  This makes it imperative that everything possible be done to accelerate the new task-based PARCC assessments currently in development.

Second, the City must recognize the Common Core’s limits. While aspirational learning standards are a foundational element in any school transformation effort, they are not a panacea that can cure every educational ill. Bringing about meaningful and enduring change in our City’s schools requires more than the adoption and rollout of new standards. It begins with an acknowledgment that school transformation is a highly complex, multi-factorial endeavor that necessitates a sustained, multi-pronged line of attack.

In short, as the City focuses on the promise and demands of the Common Core, it cannot lose sight of the myriad other factors that influence school success, including principal leadership, parent involvement, community engagement, and attending to students’ social and emotional needs. Only then will we have a real chance of eliminating the achievement gap and ensuring that all of our City’s young people are prepared for success in college, careers and citizenship.

Richard Stopol is President and CEO of NYC Outward Bound Schools.