The nation is abuzz with the Common Core Standards. From Arne Duncan to TV pundits to Governors to teachers, everyone has an opinion – and it’s usually pretty strongly held.
I candidly don’t know the arguments deeply enough to have a strong belief either way, but I sense a lot of up-side to shared standards like this – but that’s not the purpose of this blog.
Academics don’t live in isolation. And, academic outcomes are not manifest merely of academic inputs.
The role of school climate in a broad range of student and school outcomes, including those promoted and supported by the Common Core, has long been understood (if not effectively implemented):
“Positive school climate is associated with and/or predictive of academic achievement, school success, effective violence prevention, students’ healthy development, and teacher retention.”[i]
I suspect every person reading this worked harder, and perhaps even achieved more, for one teacher than another – regardless of whether or not you liked the subject. The teacher respected you and as a sign of respect back, you worked hard.
Every student I ever worked with who found success despite significant life challenges had that one Principal or teacher or coach who they didn’t want to disappoint. So, they decided to go to school even when they felt like skipping.
Every teacher I have ever met taught better and engaged students better when s/he felt safe and supported by her colleagues and school leadership. The school context, not merely the curriculum, affected his/her ability to deliver positive academic outcomes.
And yet, it seems like we keep forgetting this!
Improving academic standards and expectations is obviously critical to education reform. But, I humbly predict that much of the success, or lack thereof, of Common Core, at least in the next 5-8 years, will be attributable to the context in which the standards are implemented.
In other words, the Common Core will succeed where there is a positive school climate supporting it. Alternately, without a positive school climate, no amount of new Common Core Standards will deliver the academic outcomes we all desire.
Obviously, my humble prediction here may be wrong (I rarely “do” predictions). But, don’t we at least know enough now, at a time of such energy and investment in education reform, to at least bring school climate out of the academic research and out of the shadows? Isn’t it at least smart strategy to prioritize this leading indicator beyond its current lagging position? Won’t we know more and sooner about the direction of Common Core if we do?
Whether we articulate and track the standards effectively or not, I believe school climate is the common core of Common Core.
[i] “School Climate: Research, Policy, Practice, and Teacher Education” by Jonathan Cohen, Elizabeth McCabe, Nicholas Michelli, Terry Pickeral. Teachers College Record Volume 111, Number 1, January 2009, pp. 180–213