As a school district leader who writes and speaks about our school improvement efforts, I’ve been labeled a “Common Core” advocate. I’m not sure what that means to the people who use the phrase. Common Core may be the most misused and misunderstood term of our generation. If an advocate is one who speaks and writes in support or defense of a cause, then my cause is school improvement and I am an advocate of standards and systems that work.
First, it’s our responsibility to lead so that we have schools with systems in place to ensure that ALL students are taught to the same high standards. That system can’t be one in which each teacher reads and interprets standards alone, plans a curriculum and lessons independently of every other teacher, and then modifies and adapts the curriculum based solely on her own hunches or feelings.
A school district that’s healthy, coherent and cohesive puts systems into place to ensure that all teachers and administrators work together to read and analyze standards, design curriculum across and between grade levels and modify and adapt curriculum based on data that is both anecdotal and performance and test assessed. The systems must include a cycle of analysis for continuous improvement. Our school district has seen dramatic gains in student learning and achievement for all students by working together in these ways.
Second, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have a school system in which every child receives the support he needs to learn. That support, individualized and differentiated, is meant for students at all levels from our most disadvantaged students to our most advanced.
We must create schools with systems in place in which all students are supported through adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction. After 26 years in public education, the past 15 as an administrator, I’m tired of talking about differentiation as if it’s an easy expectation for teachers to meet. We will never be able to truly challenge all students if do not embrace computer based solutions in a blended learning environment in which we use artificial intelligence (AI) learning solutions to supplement more traditional (and important) learning opportunities.
Third, school leadership must be first and foremost about instructional leadership. It’s the core of why we exist in the first place and we’ve left it last on our list of priorities for far too long as we’ve managed our buildings and districts.
Fourth, we need to support and believe in our children. They deserve our very best and our best hasn’t been good enough for all children. We must expect more of ourselves and show children that we expect the best of them. We must raise our expectations for all children.
Of 431 districts in upstate New York, Randolph is ranked 20th on measures of poverty, and yet we have shown consistently for four years now that our children are capable of achieving so much more than ever before in our history as a district. Other districts have proven this before us. My most fervent belief is that we must show our children that we believe in them, in their intellect and ability, their strength and potential, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. We must show them that they can be more than their current circumstances.
I know there are school districts where children have done well for generations. That’s not true for all school districts and all children. Children are not inherently bad or good, smart or stupid. They often are advantaged or disadvantaged. Public education can be the game changer for every child. It was for me. I am an advocate for every child’s ability to learn and grow and become more than perhaps any one expects. I am that child, grown and educated, to have become more than anyone would have expected. I’m here to make it happen for every child in our system.
Am I a Common Core advocate? I suppose I am. Aligning our curriculum to rigorous, shared learning standards, working together and raising our expectations for every member of our school community have resulted in significant learning gains for our children. That’s a goal for which it’s worth advocating.