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December 1, 2012
Vol. 70
No. 4

Perspectives / What Now, Educators?

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      Twenty years ago on the pages of Educational Leadership (February 1993), our authors debated the merits of having national standards. Then, educators were divided about whether standards would lead to a more challenging curriculum and greater achievement or would simply offer students arbitrarily chosen topics they would need to know to pass high-stakes tests.
      A few years later, the debate shifted after experts developed ambitious subject-area standards. Although some advocates found the voluntary subject-area standards to be nuanced, rich, and complex, critics pronounced them vague, ideological, or too numerous to cover. Without a high-powered initiative backing their implementation and with little support, educators were largely on their own to guide students to reach these new standards.
      Today, a new set of standards is ushering in new debates, new opportunities, and a whole new set of challenges. Not a curriculum but more of a framework, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) specify high-level capacities that describe what students should know and be able to do in the 21st century. With high-stakes, high-tech tests that will measure students' attainment of these standards still being developed (p. 28), some educators are waiting to pass judgment on the merits of the initiative. On the whole, however, most are optimistic, with 68 percent of K–12 teachers who are familiar with CCSS reporting they have a favorable impression of the core standards themselves (see p. 9).
      In this issue of Educational Leadership, authors weigh in on the questions swirling around the standards and offer their ideas about how to implement them effectively.
      <EMPH TYPE="3">Will the CCSS change everything? Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan (p. 10) leads off by cutting through the rumor that schools are already prepared to teach these standards. The Common Core State Standards challenge teachers to make a far-reaching transformation in their approaches to teaching students, he asserts. A focus on developing comprehension skills needs to take its place alongside phonics in the teaching of reading in the early grades. A greater emphasis on history and science texts and on informational texts at all grade levels must become commonplace. Close reading and rereading should be part of every student's daily practice. Such shifts will require better and more appropriate professional development, instructional materials, and supervision, Shanahan notes. Other authors in this issue carefully consider the meaning of close reading (pp. 24, 36); the place that reading aloud has in the classroom (pp. 36, 48); and the practices that best support critical reading and powerful writing (pp. 48, 68, 74).
      <EMPH TYPE="3">Do the CCSS boost equality as well as excellence? Writing about the shifts in the teaching of mathematics, William H. Schmidt and Nathan A. Burroughs (p. 54) note that by calling for greater focus on fewer topics, the CCSS will reduce the variation in opportunity to learn mathematics in different classrooms. Often students as young as 9 or 10 have their long-term academic futures determined for them because they are assigned to math classrooms that do not teach challenging content. All this will change if the vision of the standards is realized, they write. Sandra Alberti (p. 24) and Marilyn Burns (p. 42) provide up-close views of what such changes as increased emphasis on mathematical reasoning might look like in classrooms, and they describe some of the many resources available free to educators.
      <EMPH TYPE="3">Will this standards initiative really be different from earlier ones? Robert Rothman (p. 18) is among those who believe it will be. Rothman details the massive efforts that cross-state collaborations are making to build portals for resources, create online tests, provide professional development, and revamp digital libraries. In earlier efforts to promote standards, he notes, the message was often muddled and the standards left open to interpretation.
      Tom Loveless (p. 60), however, is not convinced that this movement will be any more successful than those in the past at boosting the overall quality of U.S. education. He is particularly concerned with the elasticity of the educational philosophy underpinning the standards. He notes that two organizations with starkly contrasting points of view—E. D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge Foundation, with its emphasis on content knowledge, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, with its emphasis on skills—both view the new standards as compatible with their definition of an ideal curriculum. Loveless calls for giving more guidance to teachers on how to choose effective materials from a sea of alternatives all claiming to be aligned with the standards.
      Some advocates believe these standards will (or should) change everything—from teacher education, to instructional materials, to the organization of schools. Others are concerned that CCSS will overreach and still not change what really matters—whether students learn more. Just as in the past, the effective implementation of the standards will greatly depend on the understanding and commitment of educators.
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      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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