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November/December 2012

Academic game changer...Eating the elephant known as Common Core standards
by Rene Noppe, Carol Webb, Stuart Yager and Donna McCaw

Rene Noppe and Carol Webb are assistant professors in educational leadership at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Stuart Yager is an associate professor educational leadership at WIU. Donna McCaw recently retired from WIU and currently works with the Common Core Institute.

Part IV

The last article in this four-part series will help board members focus on the “so what” piece of implementing Common Core State Standards and answer some of these questions: What does it cost? What does it mean to our schools and/or our districts? What does it mean for parents, teachers, students and administrators? What if we do not adopt the Common Core? What if we ignore this latest “new thing”?

The instructional and curricula shifts that the Common Core State Standards require could be metaphorically compared to eating a herd of elephants. First you have to decide which elephant you want to separate and where to focus your time, effort and energy. Next, you have to decide where on this selected elephant you want to start chewing.

You cannot expect it to be easy or necessarily tasty. But in the long-run you will feel satisfied and happy that you ate.

Although nothing as comprehensive as implementing Common Core can be completely captured in just four articles, we hope we have identified issues that school board members would be most interested in understanding. As our final piece, we will look at implementation costs, curricular impact, potential headaches and monitoring suggestions.


Resource allocations should be on the minds of all school leaders. Professional development, teaching materials and technology are already-identified costs related to implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Budgets for professional development might be tight, but implementation will take teacher and administrator training. Administration should be encouraged to connect the dots from past training to future CCSS professional development needs.

If your district has been keeping teachers trained in research-based best practices and they have been expected to use them, less professional development may be needed. But it will be impossible to move forward with little to no training.

Building a “train the trainer” model will help support dollars spent and will build capacity.


Districts might decide to align existing curriculum to the Common Core, which might not be the best use of time and energy. The implementation clock is ticking, and no resource will be as valuable as the resource of time.

If your current instructional curriculum (content that is actually taught) has been aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards, then two-thirds of what is currently being taught will align.

It might be more beneficial to start by examining the CCSS and map backward from there. Examine the standards and then the instructional curriculum to identify places where they align. But be aware: every grade level has shifts toward more challenging content.

Deconstructing or “ unwrapping” the standards is vital to understanding the complexities of the required knowledge and skills within each one. If your teachers have spent time this year deconstructing the standards, the richness of that time will materialize in the development of their lesson plans and student assessments.

If they have not spent time deconstructing the standards, we recommend that teachers and administrators learn how to deconstruct some math and English/language arts standards and then purchase or find some quality ones on the Internet. Moving another year closer to the release of the new state assessment reduces the time that your teachers will have to spend deconstructing all math and language arts standards.

Interdisciplinary and real-world

In preparing for the real world, sixth-grade teachers through those in high school must be encouraged and supported to create cross-curricular lessons. The world of work does not separate math, science, reading, writing and other subject areas into isolated experiences.

The employee at the chain store lumber yard uses math, reads technical manuals, understands the sciences of decomposition and writes up work orders. The actuary reads and writes technical reports related to the statistical analysis of life-changing data sets.

Therefore it is important that the 21st century secondary educational system move away from content isolated instruction, curriculum and assessments toward integrated concepts. Doing so will better prepare the next generation for successful careers, employability and life.

Potential headaches

The Illinois Learning Standards did not require students to problem-solve or think at higher levels. They did not require significant changes in how teachers taught or how they assessed student learning.

A genuine concern will be that parents will not appreciate the “harder” work and the need for an internationally rigorous curriculum. Additionally, students may be expected to complete some projects or assignments at performance levels representing excellence.

In the world of work, it is common practice to re-do work until it is completed at your supervisor’s level of acceptance. Complaining to get out of successfully completing the work doesn’t keep anyone employed.

More rigorous levels of expectations will result in frustrated students and subsequently, frustrated parents. The new standards, curricular expectations and assessment requirements move us toward the responsibility of preparing students for success in college, technical schools and subsequent employability.

Monitoring suggestions

So, going back to our original questions … what can and should school board members do during the implementation of Common Core State Standards?

• Understand that the required changes for implementing CCSS will result in some unhappy teachers and parents. Encourage them to talk with administrators about their frustrations. Giving into complaints will not move your district forward, but it could undermine your dreams and desires for a quality education for children. Refer parents and community members to the national PTA’s website ( and the Illinois State Board of Education’s website ( for parent-friendly information on CCSS.

• Honor the work that has been done to date. It may be a serious mistake not to connect the dots between past excellent professional development and future plans. Work with the administrative team to develop an implementation and development plan.

• Support a reasonable timeline but expect the next five years to focus on implementing CCSS.

• Hire administrators informed about implementation of CCSS processes, content, curriculum, assessments, etc.

• Support your administrators’ CCSS implementation plan.

• Stay informed about the standards and student assessments.

Just as the implementation of the CCSS is a work in progress so is staying aware of each new roll out of information. Board members, school leaders and teachers are highly encouraged to stay abreast of new developments within both PARCC and SMARTER Balanced assessment consortia, to share resources and to select with great care what expectations will be shared and the establishment of deadlines.

Putting this work off will only increase the stress and pressure placed on teachers and administrators. But expecting to be at full implementation of all standards with quality supporting student assessments by the 2014-2015 school year also is unrealistic.

Remember, how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

So carefully and intelligently, monitoring your administrators and teacher leaders, select which bite(s) of the elephant your district will begin chewing on first. Bon appetite!

Part I: May/June — Common Core 101

Part II: July/August — Shifting the focus

Part III: September/October — Charting the course

Table of Contents


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