California school districts having trouble getting their arms around the elephant known as Common Core now have a 60-page guide to help them focus.

The first edition of the Leadership Planning Guide to implement the Common Core standards and assessments was published last week by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association with help from other organizations representing the teachers, school boards, school administrators, charter schools and parents.

“The Planning Guide emphasizes a team approach to Common Core implementation and features quick links to a wealth of resources from California and across the nation,” said David Gordon, superintendent of schools for the Sacramento County Office of Education, which took a leading role in the publication. “It’s a quick read and should be helpful to districts well along the road to implementation as well as those just starting out.”

The Planning Guide lists 10 components that districts must act on to create an effective Common Core implementation plan.

The Planning Guide lists 10 components that districts must act on to create an effective Common Core implementation plan.

The guide breaks down the path to adopting Common Core standards in math and English language arts into 10 basic components, from professional development to curriculum development and technology support. An appendix has a checklist for each category for districts to mark their progress.

The 10 components are:

1. “Capacity building and leadership development” at the district office and among principals and teachers to support collaboration and professional learning;

2. “Communication and stakeholder engagement” through an outreach plan to inform the community about the new standards;

3. Review of curriculum and instruction to create a coherent curriculum, taking advantage of the pending frameworks in math and English language arts that the State Board will approve and reinforced by other subject areas like history and science;

4. Alignment of instructional materials and digital resources, with training on how to use them;

5. Professional development for all, including the creation of professional learning communities and support for principals who must become instructional leaders;

6. “Student learning feedback systems” that include interim assessments and immediate feedback so that teachers know whether students understand the new material;

7. Alignment of support programs for English learners and students with disabilities and of early childhood instruction to prepare kindergartners and 1st graders for Common Core;

8. Expansion of the use of technology for instruction, analysis of student data and for student assessments;

9. Commitment of financial resources and human resources (hiring decisions) to match the priorities of the Common Core;

10. Collaboration with higher education institutions, community organizations and businesses for opportunities such as internships around career and college readiness.

For each of the components, the Guide frames the issue and makes detailed suggestions. For example, in the section on use of digital materials, the Guide suggests that the district consider a position on using open-source materials and the creation of quality-control process a way to vet teacher-developed materials.

Recognizing that districts may be further along in some areas and behind in others, the Guide encourages districts to analyze where they are, for each component, in the four stages of adoption  (which some administrators might confuse with the five stages of grief). It starts with a vague awareness, then moves on to the planning or “transition” stage, then full-scale implementation, where districts need to be by next year, and finally the post-implementation “continuous improvement phase” of monitoring and adjusting strategies based on how well students are getting the standards.

The Guide lists numerous resources that districts can turn to for aspects of the Common Core. The creators of the Guide plan future updates.

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