The Common Core State Standards are the latest in a 30-year effort by states and the federal government to improve students’ preparation for college and the workforce by spelling out what they should know and be able to do. But these policies have had only modest success, often accompanied by unintended consequences, such as cheating scandals and teaching to the test.
Recognizing the need for better strategies for implementing college- and career-readiness standards, the Institute of Education Sciences has awarded Penn GSE’s Andy Porter a $10-million, 5-year grant to lead a center to study such standards on a national scale. The Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) will catalogue the full range of state and district efforts to implement the 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.
“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.”
Joining Porter in co-directing C-SAIL are Laura Desimone, professor of education policy at Penn GSE; Morgan Polikoff, who received his PhD at Penn GSE and is now an assistant professor of education policy at the USC Rossier School of Education; and Michael Garet and Kelly Hallberg of the Education Program at the American Institutes for Research.
Other Penn GSE faculty on the Center’s team are Nelson Flores, assistant professor of educational linguistics, who will guide the Center’s efforts to make the standards more effective for English language learners; and Amy Stornaiuolo, assistant professor in the Reading/Writing/Literacy division, who will serve as an English Language Arts content expert.
“C-SAIL situates Penn GSE and the University of Pennsylvania at the frontline of research into one of the nation’s most vital but fraught educational policy issues,” said Penn GSE dean Pam Grossman. “Porter and his team will provide one-on-one support to teachers as they grapple with incorporating standards into their classroom instruction, while also studying what works and what doesn’t on a national scale. Their center has the potential to move the needle on student learning.”
For Porter, whose term as dean of Penn GSE ended in 2014, the Center is a capstone to a distinguished career as an education researcher. The framework underlying C-SAIL’s research is a simple but powerful theory he developed in the 1990s that identifies five components of successful policy implementation. He also developed one of the key tools, the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum, the Center will use to assess the alignment of standards and assessments. In March, the American Educational Research Association honored Porter with the Distinguished Contributions to Research in Education Award, the organization’s premier acknowledgment of outstanding achievement and success in education research.
C-SAIL is one of just two centers to receive funding in the Institute of Education Sciences' 2015 competition for Education Research and Development Centers. The other award went to Penn GSE alumnus Henry May, who is an associate professor of education at the University of Delaware. May was awarded $5 million to direct a center to develop and validate measures to document research use in schools. Penn GSE’s Rebecca Maynard, University Trustee Professor of Education and Social Policy, is involved in that research center.