Thursday, October 2, 2014

School Leadership in the Common Core Era

The following is a guest post by Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, Dr. Maria G. Dove, and Dr. Audrey Cohan. Check out their book titled Beyond Core Expectations: A Schoolwide Framework for Serving the Not-So-Common Learner published by Corwin.
Leaders who have deeper and more lasting impact provide more comprehensive leadership than focusing just on higher standards. (Michael Fullan, 2002, p. 16)
Prompted by the ongoing overhaul of school systems throughout the country and the rapid institution of new standards and other reforms for school improvement, we have found that many school districts had little time to develop a comprehensive course of action for the instruction of typically developing students, let alone their growing populations of youngsters with diverse academic and linguistic needs. It appears that much of the focus for improvement has been on creating rigorous classroom instruction to increase student achievement measured by the highly contested standardized tests. Nonetheless, we contend that a concentration on the enhancement of teaching skills and strategies is not enough. What we have uncovered in the field from our research, school visits, classroom observations, and assessment of programs, policies, and practices in K–12 public schools that serve the not-so-common learner resulted in our most recent joint publication entitled Beyond Core Expectations: A Schoolwide Framework for Serving the Not-So-Common Learner (Dove, Honigsfeld, & Cohan, 2014). 

Why we have chosen to title this work Beyond Core Expectations is twofold. First, we offer a much-needed framework for the education of diverse learners. This framework not only incorporates recommendations for schoolwide literacy practices, integrated curricula, and broad-based instructional strategies for diverse learners but also integrates ideas for school communities to examine what they collectively value to promote an understanding and respect for the talents and challenges of special student populations. Second, we advocate for the development of an action plan for educating the not-so-common learners that is research-based, achievable, and reaches beyond any current educational reform initiative for school improvement.

Who Are the Not-So-Common Learners?

Public schools are attended by students from various cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds, having different assessed levels of cognitive and academic ability. In our attempt to identify these youngsters, we hope to better serve them through our advocacy for a school-wide framework to support their learning needs. As for this, common characteristics and criteria associated with the not-so-common learner include the following:

  • English Learners (ELs). These are students who are either foreign-born immigrants or US-born citizens of immigrant parents, speak a language other than English, and have yet to develop proficient skills (listening, speaking, reading, or writing) in English. 
  • Students with Interrupted or Limited Formal Education (SIFE). A subgroup of English learners, these school-aged youngsters often have significant gaps in their education and, on the average, two years or less schooling than their same age peers.
  • Students with Disabilities. Pupils with special learning needs due to physical and/or mental impairments who require special assistance to meet with academic success.
  • Nonstandard English Speaking Children. Often racially and/or ethnically diverse, these US born students speak a dialect of English in their communities and have yet to acquire standard American English skills. 
  • Children of Poverty. Youngsters under the age of 18 whose families have incomes below the US poverty threshold; approximately 16 million of America’s poor are children who are often malnourished, live in substandard housing, and have unequal access to educational opportunities.
  • Struggling Learners. Students who are not performing at grade level in the core subject matters (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2013, pp. 3-4)

Based on seminal and emerging research, exemplary and promising practices in the field, and our own synthesis of the knowledge base available, we developed a framework to support the instruction of academically and linguistically diverse pupils. The framework includes the following six components:

  1. A shared and inclusive vision and mission—first and foremost established for all students—reached through consensus and setting the groundwork for educational equity for our diverse learners through a shared set of values developed for the teaching special populations of students
  2. School-wide, disciplinary literacy that directly focuses on the teaching of academic language and literacy skills across subject areas so that all students can have access to rigorous content, language, and literacy learning opportunities in the core subject areas
  3. Mapping and alignment of an integrated curriculum to ensure that instructional content and practices for academically and linguistically diverse pupils are consistent with standards and appropriate learning outcomes for all students
  4. Collaborative planning, instruction, and assessment among teams of teachers—content-area, ESL, special education, and literacy, among others—to foster the use of teaching and learning strategies as well as assessment practices to make academic material comprehensible for all learners
  5. Explicit instruction for developing  literacy and language-learning strategies that foster students’ understanding of their own thinking and learning processes while acquiring content information
  6. Student engagement—actively involving students in the learning process—so they may be better prepared to think critically, work both collaboratively and independently, and remain persistent in their endeavors 

With this framework, we continue to advocate for learners with academic and linguistic diversity. We uphold—first and foremost—the need for establishing a shared vision and mission and building a commitment to schoolwide literacy practices. With these two components in place, the curriculum can be mapped and aligned with educational equity and schoolwide literacy in mind. Next, teachers work collaboratively to plan both instruction and assessment using the curriculum maps. Planning leads to the development of explicit strategy instruction that includes guided practice and collaborative student work—which ultimately fosters high levels of student engagement. 


Dove, M. G., & Honigsfeld, A. (2013). Common Core for the not-so-common learner: 
     English language arts strategies grades K-5. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Dove, M. G., Honigsfeld, A., & Cohan, A. (2014). Beyond core expectations: A 
     schoolwide framework for serving the not-so-common learner. Thousand Oaks, CA: 

Fullan, M. (2002). The change leader. Educational Leadership, 59(8), 16-21. 

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