Systems Theory and implementing the Common Core State Standards By STU ERVAY We have heard many explanations of how the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will affect America’s schools, from the need to radically modify curriculum around scope and sequence imperatives, to changes in instructional methods and assessment of student learning. For school administrators and classroom teachers, every new piece of information makes them realize how daunting CCSS implementation will actually be! CCSS implementation is frightening to educational practitioners because it is like pounding a square peg into a round hole. Simply put, school districts are not ready for a process that is so alien to their comfort level and ways of doing things.
Current Decision-Making and Action-Taking Models are Not Aligned with CCSS American public school districts are administrative units organized the way businesses and the military set up their decision-making and action-taking apparatus.They are created around line and staff processes, which is another way of saying they use top-down management techniques. Significant in this model are decision-making boards, executives that carry out board decisions, subordinate administrators who manage units within the larger organization, and workers who perform their tasks under policies and directives flowing downward through the hierarchy. In schools, we
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are clearly talking about boards of education, superintendents, principals and teachers. CCSS calls for a much different kind of collaborative arrangement in which teams of professionals must work together both horizontally — each grade level and secondary department — AND vertically — among grade levels and units featuring integrated subject matter. Except for the professional learning community (PLC) initiative, which is only now addressing the vertical consideration, not much has been done to create that new kind of educational environment. Even new PLC processes do not typically provide the kind of governance structure that allows entire districts to focus on vertical considerations between and among all buildings, and the kind of integrated approach that provides for the inclusion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) into existing content fields.
CCSS Emphasizes the Intellectual Engagement of Teachers and Students The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) process left schools with a multi-faceted legacy, the most significant of which is the emphasis on knowledge/skill bits that can be “unpacked” from standards, taught to mastery through narrow curricula, and easily measured using high stakes tests. While NCLB initially applied to mathematics and reading, many school districts incorporated that approach and mind set into all subjects
and grade levels. Considering the fact many of today’s teachers received their college preparation during the NCLB era, they are often imbued with the kind of thinking that stresses mastery of knowledge/skills pieces, and an instructional process that emphasizes drill and test approaches akin to stimulusresponse. Unlike NCLB, CCSS is all about intellectual engagement around both scholastic and practical imperatives. In other words, an academically stimulating environment is required that causes both teachers and students to examine ways human beings become more cognitively effective in meeting real world challenges and opportunities. In order for that kind of environment to exist in schools and districts, teachers and students must work together as never before.The idea is as old as learning itself, that inquiry and reflection are the means through which we change our behaviors for the better, and that can only occur when we create collaborative environments.
CCSS is the Product of New Kinds of Thinking About an Emerging Interconnected Society Just a brief perusal of recent literature written by the most popular theorists in organizational management tells us that the Common Core State Standards didn’t occur by happenstance. Change agents and authors like W. Edwards Deming (“The Deming Management Theory”) and Peter Senge (“The Fifth Discipline”) advocate a move away from the line and staff kind of organizational
Southeast Education Network issue 15.2