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Under Construction: The Rise, Spread and Consequences of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the U.S. Education Sector

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Brian P. Rowan, Chandra L. Alston, George C. Alter, Susan Jekielek, David K. Cohen

This proposal describes a five-year program of mixed-method research to examine the rise, spread, and consequences of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative in American education. Given the goals of the CCSS initiative and the social environment in which it is unfolding, the research proposed here will address the following research questions:

[RQ 1] What social structures and processes in the education sector account for rise of the CCSS initiative and for the rapid adoption of the CCSS by states? Moreover, how does this compare to similar attempts to establish common (i.e., national) standards for student learning (e.g., the Next Generation Science Standards)? Finally, what does an examination of these different standards-setting initiatives imply about the likely rise, spread, and stability of national standards in American education generally, both now and in the future?

[RQ 2] Once launched, how has the CCSS initiative affected (and been affected by) the structure and coordination of inter-organizational relationships in the education sector, including coordination among government agencies, assessment providers, instructional materials providers, and staff development providers? Are new kinds of sector-wide coordinating mechanisms arising to assure the alignment to the CCSS of assessments, instructional materials, instructional guidance and staff development? For example, are various market dynamics, network formations, or government actions leading particular groups of organizations (at national, state, regional, or local levels) to coordinate their actions in ways that produce coherent designs for the achievement of CCSS objectives in reading and mathematics?

[RQ 3] Given developments in the education sector as a whole, how are state and local school systems approaching the problem of CCSS-aligned instructional improvement? To what extent are these government agencies relying on markets, networks, or internal management processes to organize instructional improvement, and how does this affect the emergence of coherent, CCSS-aligned designs for instruction in these agencies? Are some states/districts better positioned to develop coherent designs for CCSS-aligned instruction? If so, what features of these organizations and/or their environments encourage this development?

[RQ 4] To what extent (and in what direction) is subject-specific classroom teaching practice changing as the CCSS initiative unfolds? In particular, in differently situated school systems, how do English/Language Arts or Mathematics teachers become aware of particular CCSS-aligned resources for instruction (e.g., assessments, materials, lesson plans, instructional routines) and what are their sources of information about these resources (e.g, personal search, membership in professional groups, participation in local school or district networks, state and local administrative mandates or guidance)? And how are teachers combining these various instructional resources in their day-to-day enactment of subject-specific instructional activities, especially for students from diverse social backgrounds? Are there specific conditions under which teachers manage to enact powerful lessons focused on the attainment of subject-specific CCSS objectives?

[RQ 5] Finally, to what extent are patterns of student achievement changing in the CCSS era? Is student achievement in reading and/or mathematics improving over time, and if so, are such improvements observable across all socio-economic groups? Or, in the CCSS era, are socioeconomic gaps in subject-specific achievement persisting or widening? Moreover, to what extent do subject-specific patterns of student achievement vary across regions, and if strong regional variation is present, to what extent is it explained by the socio-economic location of school systems, the location of school systems in particular school improvement hubs, or other education policies and resources

Funding Period: 07/01/2016 to 06/30/2019

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