Bringing order to Common Core

Classroom teachers, school administrators, a former state superintendent of public instruction, and two legislators will comprise the new Instructional Quality Commission, which will be the eyes and ears for the State Board of Education on the Common Core standards and will help guide the daunting effort to implement them over the next three-plus years.

As its name implies, the Commission’s mission will be broader than the body it has replaced, the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, which had a more orderly, sequential role in the process of adopting state standards, curriculum frameworks and the teacher training and textbooks that followed.

By contract, California faces a truncated, potentially messy process of making the transition to Common Core. The State Board adopted the standards, which all but five states have now approved, in August 2010. Common Core assessments in math and English language arts, now being developed by a consortium of states, are scheduled to be given in the spring of 2015. The Commission’s main charge is to create and recommend curriculum frameworks, translating broad standards into more specific guides for grade-by-grade curriculums, to the State Board over the next two years: math in November 2013 and English language arts in May 2014. Meanwhile, districts shouldn’t be waiting around – and many aren’t – to start training teachers in Common Core and searching for materials to use.

“It’s like parallel processing. People are doing things, and they need stuff now,” said Bill Honig, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1983-1993, who is one of the 13 Commission members that the State Board approved earlier this month, out of 128 people who applied.* State Board President Michael Kirst has asked Honig, president of the Berkeley-based school consultancy CORE (not to be confused with the reform district collaborative by the same name), to organize the agenda and prepare commissioners for its first meeting in June.

The State Board and the state Department of Education will have a new and diminished role over Common Core, compared with adoption of state standards in the ’90s. Then it was a Sacramento-driven process, and the State Board could dictate the content of textbooks and materials. Now the standards are uniform, with a few important exceptions, and other states, especially the Race to the Top winners, are moving faster than California in creating curriculum guidelines. Teachers, through social networks, YouTube, online courses, and blogs (here’s just one), are sharing lessons and approaches to teacher training.

National standards could lead to the dominance of a few publishers or an explosion of free and cheap materials by software entrepreneurs. A formal textbook adoption process remains the law, but it will be a dinosaur by the time the State Board completes the 30-month review process years from now.

In its place will be a voluntary interim materials adoption process in which publishers will submit Common Core aligned materials for review later this year. Districts technically will be limited to using state lottery proceeds and discretionary money to buy the materials, but district administrators with budgeting finesse will figure out how to spend what’s left of the textbook account on whatever they want.

Honig says the Commission will be on the lookout for what other states and local districts are doing well; that will inform the frameworks process.

The state’s role will be clearinghouse,” he said. “Common Core will not be a state-run effort. There are not enough people to do that.” (For more information on Common Core, including the state’s 265-page plan for implementing Common Core, go here.)

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has estimated implementing Common Core will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, between new textbooks and professional development – money the state and districts don’t have. But Honig, a strong Common Core supporter, says there is a “very strong consensus” in California on what needs to be done – even if some districts are waiting for the state for guidance.

Still, there will be areas of contention, particularly on the subject of eighth grade math. In adopting Common Core, the state could supplement national standards up an additional, vaguely defined, 15 percent. Particularly in math, the State Board shifted some standards to lower grades and added California’s full set of algebra standards to Common Core’s eighth grade standards, creating a jumble that first the Commission and eventually the State Board must sort out. The Commission also must figure how the frameworks will incorporate California’s supplemental standards,  how materials will address them, and how the state will then test them. (If they’re not assessed, then teachers won’t teach them.)

This summer the State Board, on the advice of the Commission, will appoint experts in math and English language arts to the Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee. It will do the detailed work on the frameworks for the Commission, which will in turn begin a six-month review process before the State Board adoption.

Seventeen of the Commission’s 18 members have been named; only the governor’s appointment is still vacant. Along with Honig, the members are:

  • Angel Barrett, Principal, Plummer Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified;
  • Krystn Bennett, 1st grade Classroom Teacher, Santa Paula Elementary School District;
  • Jose Dorado, Instructional Coach in math, Los Angeles Unified;
  • Edward D’Souza, Senior Director, Professional Development and Induction, Rialto Unified;
  • Angienette Estonina, English Language Support Services Teacher on Special Assignment and Co-director of the Literature Project at University of California, Berkeley;
  • Lori Freiermuth, High School Math Teacher, Sweetwater Union High School Distirct;
  • Marlene Galvan, English Language Arts District Coach, Dinuba Unified;
  • Michelle Herczog, Consultant in History-Social Science, Los Angeles County Office of Education;
  • Martha Hernandez, Director, Curriculum, Instruction & Continuous Improvement, Ventura County Office of Education;
  • Jo Ann Isken, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for Lennox School District;
  • Nancy McTygue, Executive Director, California History-Social Science Project at UC Davis;
  • Socorro Shiels, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, Morgan Hill Unified;
  • Julie Spykerman, Math Curriculum Specialist, Anaheim Union High School District;
  • Lauryn Wild, Secondary Education Specialist for English Language Arts, Social Studies and CAHSEE for the San Bernardino City Unified School District;
  • Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto;
  • Senator Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach

* Honig is a member of the Top-Ed Advisory Board.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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