Common Core Standards Are a 'Heavy Lift' for Districts, Educators

Kelsey Sheehy

Implementing the Common Core State Standards will be challenging--but not impossible--according to experts speaking in New York this week at the Education Nation summit, part of an NBC News initiative.

The new standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, require English and math lessons to go more in-depth to teach students critical thinking and analytical skills, in order to develop students who are more prepared to succeed in college and the workplace. During an informal survey at a discussion panel on Monday, 92 percent of those attending said they thought rolling out the new standards would be either difficult or very difficult.

"It's going to change what we teach, ... how we teach and what materials we use to teach, ... how we decide who's ready to graduate from high school and ... who gets into college, and how we prepare teachers," said Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit, education policy think tank. "It's a very heavy lift, and it's well worth lifting."

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School officials in the Los Angeles Unified School District are trying to smooth the transition by having their teachers take the lead in developing training and professional development courses, John Deasy, the district's superintendent, said at the panel.

Despite severe funding shortages, teachers and administrators at LAUSD have ramped up training over the past year and a half in preparation for a statewide rollout of the standards next year.

"Is it cost neutral? Of course not. But on the other hand, it must be done," Deasy said. "So we're finding ways to use the current resources we have and tap into the knowledge of the amazing teaching and leadership staff."

To tap into those resources, Deasy and other LAUSD leaders taught lessons for teachers over the summer, and teachers in the district worked together to prepare lesson plans and critique teaching strategies, he said.

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Having a common set of standards and expectations means educators can collaborate across state lines as well, noted Monica Sims, a teaching fellow at America Achieves, a nonprofit group working to improve education quality.

"I could talk to a [teacher] across the nation and say ... 'This is what I'm grappling with; what are you doing?" Sims said. "I believe that this is definitely something that everyone has to take a different approach to, but it's totally doable."

While the standards are achievable, they are not a quick fix and states will experience some hurdles in implementing them, cautioned Finn, with the Fordham Institute.

"It's going to go at different rates in different places ... and we need to be ready for that," he said. "But honestly, if a dozen states do a bang-up job over the next five, six years, it's going to begin to change the country."

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