Jim Spillane’s New Book Addresses Leaders in Common Core Era

Jim Spillane’s New Book Addresses Leaders in Common Core Era

Challenging Standards

Professor James Spillane, known for his expertise in education leadership and policy, has a new book on the Common Core State Standards, a hot topic in schools and statehouses across the nation. Challenging Standards can help education leaders to build capacity and navigate conflict as they implement the standards in schools.

“This book moves us beyond the either-or narrative that has characterized much of the conversation about Common Core and the standards movement more broadly,” says Spillane.

Major sections of the book address implementation in schools and systems, enactment in classrooms, building systems capacity through relationships and navigating politics. Spillane and co-editor Jonathan Supovitz, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, say that the perennial problem with education standards is bridging the gap between idealistic goals and actual classroom practice.

Local educators are the “key architects of the educational infrastructures that will determine whether or not the new standards will have a constructive influence on teaching and learning,” Spillane and Supovitz say. The high standards provide “a clarion call for professional educators to rethink the surrounding organizations, structures and relationships that produce the experiences students receive.”

Challenging Standards offers education leaders the perspectives of 20 experts on a variety of topics, ranging from curriculum myths to the promise of rigor to the complications of politics. One of the chapters is by SESP professor Carol Lee, who focuses on the English language arts standards. In their introduction, the editors explain reasons for education standards, how U.S. standards policies evolved and the issues the Common Core standards raise.

James Spillane

Spillane’s chapter on standards implementation, written with Megan Hopkins, argues for attention to education infrastructures as education leaders make sense of standards and what they entail for instruction. Spillane’s research finds that some school subjects have more elaborate infrastructures for supporting instruction than other subjects — differences that have large consequences as schools put standards into practice.

In a chapter entitled “The Infrastructure and Conceptual Challenges of the Common Core State Standards,” Lee focuses on the English language arts (ELA) standards as a case study. She examines how the ELA standards both reflect and ignore lessons from research.

Reviewers praise the book as practical and comprehensive. For example, Philip Lanoeu, a school superintendent in Athens, Georgia, says, “This useful book will help frame district leaders’ thinking about key issues that inform the critical conversations that need to occur at every level of districts.” Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, comments, “Every policymaker urgently needs this book’s concepts, comprehensive components and detailed roadmap to help create successful implementation of Common Core in systems, schools and classrooms.”

Challenging Standards grew out of a 2014 conference sponsored by the American Education Research Association that explored the policy and politics of the Common Core standards. Spillane also builds on his own research connected to education reform standards of the past. His 2004 book Standards Deviation was based on an in-depth study of nine Michigan districts in the early 1990s that found wide variations in how teachers interpreted and applied state standards.

So far, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core, which outlines new expectations for K-12 students’ learning in language arts and mathematics. The standards resulted from an initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to create consistent education standards across the states seeking to prepare U.S. students for college and careers. Common Core represents the second major school reform movement based on standards in the past 25 years.

At Northwestern University, Spillane is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy. He is also professor of Human Development and Social Policy, professor of Learning Sciences, professor of Management and Organizations, and faculty associate at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

Spillane is the author of several books, including Distributed Leadership and Diagnosis and Design for School Improvement, as well as numerous journal articles. He has published extensively on issues of education policy, policy implementation, school reform, and school leadership. His work explores the policy implementation process at the state, district, school and classroom levels, and he also studies organizational leadership and change.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 8/31/15