Common Core and Education Standards Reform

Penn GSE researchers are closely studying how College and Career Readiness (CCR) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being implemented, and assessing what is working and what is not. These Penn GSE experts can offer insight into standardized tests aligned with these evolving standards and wade into the politics surrounding the Common Core debate.


Education Policy

Jonathan Supovitz
studies how the Common Core is working in schools and advises educators on how they can better implement the standards. His project examined the debate over the standards on Twitter, and how politics affect what happens in the classroom. This ongoing work continues to explore the impact of social media on education policy decision-making. He recently co-edited the book “Challenging Standards: Navigating Conflict and Building Capacity in the Era of the Common Core.” Supovitz is co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), a consortium of major research universities headquartered at Penn GSE. 

Andy Porter and Laura Desimone co-direct the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) to study state and district efforts to implement the College and Career Readiness Standards, assess the effects of these activities on instruction and student outcomes, and support teachers in interpreting the standards and changing their practice in response to them. C-SAIL is supported by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.

Porter, Penn GSE’s former dean, is considered the nation’s premier expert on testing. “Standards-based reform has typically stopped at the classroom door, and so has not realized its full potential,” said Porter. “Our Center seeks to demonstrate that standards-based reform can be a powerful, positive force for change in instruction at scale and with achievement benefits for all students.” 

Desimone examines how education policy influences teachers’ instruction and student learning. Past reform efforts have shown that standards and similar policies often fall short because of the lack of support for teachers as they try to implement the policies. “We know that teachers are instrumental in realizing the vision of college and career ready standards; C-SAIL seeks to identify the successes and challenges of states, districts and school leaders in providing supportive and educative teacher learning experiences.” Desimone, also an expert in teacher professional development, co-leads Shared Solutions, a research partnership with the School District of Philadelphia. 

Bilingual learning

Nelson Flores
is an educational linguist specializing in ELL and bilingual education. He advised the New York State Department of Education as it developed its standards for ELL and bilingual education. He is currently developing Common Core aligned curricular materials that treat bilingualism as a resource for learning. “Bilingualism must be central to any conversation about College and Career Ready Standards,” Flores said. He can discuss the implications of CCR standards for ELL and bilingual education, the challenges that confront states as they work to support ELLs in meeting the demands of CCR standards and strategies that states can take to more effectively meet the needs of this student population.  Flores is part of the C-SAIL team investigating CCR standards where he is focusing on the implementation of CCR standards for ELLs across the partner states. 

Teaching Math

Janine Remillard studies how curriculum is designed, and how teachers use curriculum. An expert in teaching math, her research has shown that the curriculum schools choose — and teachers’ willingness to adopt that curriculum — plays a major role in the success or failure of standards. “It requires coordination of local policy, curriculum design, and substantial professional development. Most importantly, actors at all levels of the system need to possess a level of understanding of the content of the common core standards,” says Remillard. She recently contributed a chapter to “Challenging Standards: Navigating Conflict and Building Capacity in the Era of the Common Core.” 

College Readiness

Joni Finney
studies college access and affordability questions. In her work, Finney has examined how high school standards prepare students for the rigor of college courses, and has a depth of knowledge about individual state’s efforts. She has also investigated what financial incentives might encourage students and institutions of higher education to focus on college readiness.

“Aligning college ready standards between high schools and postsecondary education enhances a students’ chance for success,” Finney said. “High school educators need to embed college-ready standards in their work. Placement exams for higher education should be aligned with those same standards. Ultimately, high school graduates shouldn’t be surprised by increased rigor. They should be prepared.”

A primer on the Common Core

What are the Common Core State Standards?

A set of standards developed in 2009 that established academic progress benchmarks for students at each grade level in math and English language arts. The goal is to keep students on a path to make them college or career ready by the time they graduate high school. The standards are a broad outline for academic progress, not a specific curriculum dictating instruction.

How was the Common Core created?

The standards were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Why did they create the Common Core?

Unlike most developed countries, the United States does not have a national model for education progress. Individual states and school districts set their own agendas.

The Common Core was created to give participating states a more uniform plan for academic progress that supporters — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — say is necessary to keep American students globally competitive. In many schools, the Common Core’s timetable for progress is considered more rigorous than what had previously been used.   

Who’s using the Common Core?

Forty-three states adopted the standards. But, as the standards have become more controversial, some states, like Mississippi, are dropping them. Others, like New Jersey, have pledged to create their own standards. 

What about Common Core testing?

The CCSS don’t require any specific testing. However, the Common Core implementation has accompanied a rise in standardized testing designed to evaluate students, teachers, and schools. Many of these annual tests — PARCC and Smarter Balanced are the most widely used — have aligned their assessments with the Common Core standards.