The Common Core State Standards state what students should master, but they are not a curriculum.
Jumping from the standards to create lesson plans misses a crucial middle step of developing a coherent curriculum. The absence of this more complex work of creating a local curricular framework for the district, which informs the sequence and breadth of instruction (usually referred to as “scope and sequence”), will result in weak implementation of Common Core. For example, one of the math standards for seventh grade is to use proportional thinking and percentage to solve problems such as: “If $50 is 20 percent of your total funds, how much do you have?” That standard doesn’t answer the question of how much instructional time should be invested in helping students master this standard (actually quite a lot), what strategies will be effective, what should be the progression of learning and how does instruction correlate with previous units.
A similar point is made in the English Language Arts standards. They stress the need for a coherent curriculum and a systematic build-up of knowledge both through literature broadly defined and the disciplines. They state: “By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.”
Unfortunately, many districts have not undertaken this crucial work. In a Common Core survey conducted last October by the Consortium for the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the County Offices of Education, which covered 818 districts representing 83 percent of California’s public school enrollment, only about one-third of school districts have created a scope and sequence for the the Common Core standards in either English Language Arts or mathematics for at least some grades. More than one-third of school districts report that this work is planned for the future and about one-quarter report that they are not planning to engage in this work at all. Alternatively, only about half the districts are creating units or lessons, or aligning existing units or lessons to the Common Core standards.
Although many districts and professionals are understandably feeling the pressure of the impending Smarter Balanced assessments and will be tempted to rely exclusively on the scope and sequence of the textbooks they adopt, this strategy may be less than ideal in the long run. A single textbook is no substitute for a district plan that encourages the use of a combination of resources and provides teachers guidance on the order in which standards should be taught, how much time should be spent on them and how they fit in the larger context of the grade-to-grade buildup of knowledge. Teachers need this context to maximize the effect of adopted materials. Thus, many effective districts are developing their own curricular frameworks to support the more complex instruction envisioned by standards.
For example, Long Beach’s scope and sequence documents provide a comprehensive “blueprint” for strategically sequencing and operationalizing the grade-level/course standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The critical attributes of each document are:
- Units laid out in sequence by theme/title;
- An indication of how much time to spend on each unit;
- A narrative description of each unit explaining its focus and purpose;
- A description of the standards to be assessed for each unit;
- An assessment narrative detailing:
- The formative assessment strategies and practices included in each unit so teaches can monitor how well the students are learning;
- A notation of formative assessment lessons that will be included in each unit during the second half of the unit with time allowed for re-teach/review; and
- An explanation of the structure and purpose of the interim or end-of-unit assessment and a list of item types that may be included, along with the rationale.
- The reading level range of the texts used in each ELA unit.
There are also other very useful resources available to help in developing a coherent curriculum to implement the Common Core standards.
- The California State Board of Education has just adopted the California Mathematics Curriculum Framework, which offers specifications and advice for curriculum and instruction to implement the Common Core standards plus connections to other national and state resources that support this effort. For example, it relies heavily on work from Arizona.
- The Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) has approved the draft of the English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework incorporating both the board-adopted Common Core English Language Arts standards and the English Language Development standards for English Learners. It is undergoing a 60-day review (please feel free to offer us some advice) but the draft framework is also extremely useful in giving guidance on developing local ELA/ELD curriculum and instruction.The ELA/ELD framework stresses not only the goals of college and career readiness but also education for citizenship and to produce broadly literate individuals. It emphasizes the need to carefully attend to what students read, discuss and write over their school careers to accomplish these goals both in school and in an organized independent reading program. It is organized around five interrelated strands common to both ELA and ELD (with ELD instruction helping English Learners master the Common Core standards)—making meaning such as drawing inferences; language including vocabulary, syntax, academic language and text structure; written and oral expression; a build-up of content and discipline knowledge; and foundation skills including the skills of decoding, understanding syllabication and becoming fluent.
- At its January meeting the State Board of Education unanimously adopted 31 K-8 base program mathematics texts. Each of these programs has been reviewed for fidelity to the standards and frameworks and offers a curricular scope and sequence that can be very useful in developing local curricular frameworks, if not relied on exclusively.
- A leadership planning guide completed last October by the Consortium for the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association stresses the critical importance of each district deciding on a coherent and sequenced curriculum to implement the Common Core state standards. The guide also offers very useful advice on implementation of Common Core.
- A November report by Hannover Research contains an exhaustive list of Common Core curricular resources and planning tools being used by the various states. Another list of resources is available at the CDE website and a national open resources list aligned to the Common Core can be found at OER Commons.
- Finally, the California Department of Education/County site Brokers of Expertise contains a host of resources and has just initiated a specifically designated CICCSS group page for discussion of implementation of Common Core. Many states have also produced curricular planning guides. For example, the Colorado Department of Education has posted their own guide (Colorado’s District Sample Curriculum Project), as has New York.
- Many district scope and sequence efforts and units of instruction for standards implementation are available at the CDE, CCSESA and county office of education websites. Most districts are willing to share their work.
I hope this piece will be useful in supporting our collective efforts to improve educational performance. By placing instruction and a coherent curriculum based on Common Core standards at the center of a five- to 10-year improvement effort and by building school, district, state and organizational capacity to continuously support that implementation, we should be well on our way to a successful launch of these potentially transformative standards.
Bill Honig is chairman of the Instructional Quality Commission and former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction.