Instructional Leadership in Action

Connecting Common Core Standards with Instructional Improvement

by Stephen Fink on Oct 26, 2011

Stephen_FinkWith so much of the nation’s attention caught up in partisan and intra-partisan arguing and brinksmanship, it is rare these days to find widely shared agreement on any national issue. But amidst the seemingly intractable political divisions, I have been heartened by the broad support at both the state and national levels for the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for education. Not since the time of Sputnik have such diverse political and popular wills rallied behind a shared nationwide vision of educational attainment.

It should come as no surprise that here at the Center for Educational Leadership we support the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. This state-led initiative was developed in partnership with teachers, administrators and experts, with feedback provided by national organizations including those representing civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. The evidence-based standards define a clear and consistent K-12 learning framework for preparing students — regardless of where they live — for success after high school, whether their next step is college or a career.

To date, more than 40 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted the Common Core State Standards. This widespread adoption reflects a fundamental belief in educational equity shared by CEL. It must always remain a national priority to afford students from our poorest communities with the same learning expectations as students from Silicon Valley.  This implicit vision of a quality education for all is a vision that aligns with CEL’s mission and belief in high learning for all students.

While implementing common-core standards can be helpful in developing a shared vision of quality instruction, I continue to caution policymakers against looking for a quick fix for our ailing schools. Armed solely with the implementation of Common Core State Standards, we will miss the mark again unless we help teachers improve the quality of their teaching practice. Because the larger problem with our educational system isn’t just what to teach, it is how to improve the practice of teaching in the classroom. Given the inherent challenges of implementing new standards, additional leadership capacities must be developed at the school, district and state levels if we want to see teaching improve. The leaders at these levels must be prepared to understand and deliver quality professional development that leads to improvements in classroom instruction.

But first, school leaders need to see and understand what it looks like to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all students. CEL has been addressing this critical understanding through thousands of hours of support each year to district, school and teacher leaders across the country.  Our 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning (5D) instructional framework and learning walkthrough process nurture a clear vision of quality teaching and provide the structure for developing expertise.  Through this work we’ve seen leaders become more targeted in their efforts to analyze instruction and also better able to provide the support and guidance that helps teachers improve.  CEL’s unique approach to developing instructional leadership expertise is well suited to support the implementation of common-core standards.

If legislative leadership was instrumental in the states’ adoption of the Common Core State Standards, it will be instructional leadership that will be key to their successful implementation. It is time to continue the rally toward the vision of educational attainment for all, and to put our resources into improving instructional practice.


Dr. Stephen Fink is the executive director of the Center for Educational Leadership. He is the co-author of Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise.

Topics: Common Core

About the author: Stephen Fink

Dr. Stephen Fink is affiliate professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the University of Washington College of Education. He served as the founding executive director of the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) from 2001 to 2018. Dr. Fink is co-author of Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise.

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