Opening the Common Core: How to Bring All Students to College and Career Readiness


Carol Corbett Burris & Delia T. Garrity

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  • Dedication

    Dedicated to the teachers of the Rockville Centre Public Schools who have opened academic doors for all children through their firm belief in equity and excellence, and to those courageous New York principals who have resisted reducing the work of all teachers to the sum of student test scores.


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    Twenty-five years ago, two prominent reports urged policymakers to move toward educator professionalization (Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986; Holmes Group, 1986). Students, these reports reasoned, “are better served by teachers who are prepared to make responsible decisions and then given the authority to do so” (Darling-Hammond & Wise, 1992, p. 1359). By the mid-1990s, however, it was clear that state and national policy was heading in the opposite direction. Assessments were put in place to measure students’ progress toward meeting newly instituted performance standards aligned to curriculum standards. The rationale for the carefully aligned standards-based reforms was sound—no longer would schools suffer with conflicting, disorganized mandates for change. No longer would some schools set much lower standards than others.

    But among the unintended, undesirable consequences that have arisen from these reforms has been a double whammy for educators—less discretion coupled with more responsibility. That is, the standards-based reform movement has resulted in a vicious and untoward blaming of teachers and principals for outcomes that they cannot fully control. Further, it has pushed those educators to maintain a laser-like focus on the measured outcomes and on the tests themselves—narrowing curriculum and teaching to the tests—all in order to achieve a set of goals that often feel only tangentially related to the reasons why the they entered the profession.

    While these trends show few signs of fading, educators can take heart in this new book from Carol Burris and Delia Garrity. Even during a time when policy has been dominated by standards and testing policies, they helped lead their district—Rockville Centre, in Long Island, New York—toward teaching and learning grounded in the development of teachers as knowledgeable, trusted professionals. The results of their efforts are well documented—a remarkable increase in both excellence and equity. Despite the cacophony of mandates and sanctions, they have focused on what really matters—providing all students with excellent and challenging learning experiences that are deep, meaningful, preparatory, and not driven by testing.

    Burris and Garrity note at the book's outset the ongoing adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) throughout the nation. In fact, they embrace these standards. Because they do so, the book serves as a crucial missing element to the CCSS, guiding policymakers on how to move from the standards toward practices shown to increase learning and thus move students closer to meeting those standards. Similarly, the details illustrated throughout the book provide educators with corresponding tools—ways to move forward in a standards-based policy context.

    This book provides a pathway for the CCSS to be something more than the same old same old for educators. Maybe, if we are wise and careful this time, the path does not necessarily have to lead to the well worn and cruel “just do it, no excuses” condemnations. Perhaps teachers and principals can thrive as professionals, with students reaping the learning rewards.

    Burris and Garrity, in this new book, explain what it will take to do it. They help unpack the standards and describe, through examples and lessons, how to give all students more enriched learning experiences that will better prepare them for the 21st century. They wisely caution that the old drill and skill practices that are often resorted to by pressured teachers with struggling students are not the most effective ways to improve learning. The authors share research on the effectiveness of an accelerated approach, and they give the reader strategies on implementation. Indeed, they provide throughout the book practical suggestions that teachers can use with their most vulnerable students to make sure that those students are included and not relegated to the sidelines of education. The spirit of their first book, Detracking for Excellence and Equity, can be found throughout this second work, especially in the chapter that focuses specifically on equity.

    For the past eight years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to study Rockville Centre's reforms and to work with Carol Burris on that research. I have seen the dedication of Burris, Garrity, Superintendent William Johnson, and their instructional staff. I have seen that dedication pay off as the district's large achievement gap has narrowed tremendously, with overall achievement rising and Burris's high school gaining repeated recognition as one of the best in the nation. Challenging, engaging, supported learning is not a secret formula; the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine (2004), among many others, have explained these essential elements in detail. But what Burris, Garrity, and others in Rockville Centre have done is take that formula and make it part of their—and their students’—daily lives. This book explains how they did this and how others can do the same.

    This is an overwhelming time for our nation's teachers, as they feel the brunt of national and state policies motivated by callous political agendas. Burris and Garrity give teachers and school leaders practical, useful tools grounded in experience and in research. The tools are offered as a way for educators to implement change in a way that reminds us all of what reform should really be about, in the words of John Dewey (1879), “that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform” (p. 79). And a lot of what it takes is improving learning opportunities through improved, more equitable, and more supported schools.

    Professor KevinG.WelnerDirector, National Education Policy Center, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder


    The Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association, 2010) represent a dramatic shift in beliefs about the purposes of American schooling. If all students are to achieve the Common Core State Standards, schools must thoughtfully and thoroughly reexamine and change curriculum, instruction, and school structures. This book provides concrete suggestions to help schools achieve this goal.

    This book provides a comprehensive approach that integrates the standards of the Core with strategies that ensure that equity is front and center as schools and teachers engage in Core implementation. The authors provide practical strategies that teachers can use based on four essential principles—acceleration, critical thinking, equity, and support (ACES)—in order to transform instruction to meet the requirements of the new standards. These strategies are applied and developed in model lessons linked to Common Core and Knowledge and Skills for University Success (KSUS) standards.

    This book is designed to serve as a guide to K–12 educators, both teachers and school leaders, who wish to redesign learning experiences so that all of their students, including their English language learners and students with disabilities, will not be left behind as they seek to bring all students to college and career readiness.


    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Michele Badovinac, Director

    AVID Region 6

    San Joaquin County Office of Education

    Stockton, CA

    Damon Douglas, Math and ELA Curriculum Specialist

    Northampton, MA

    Cathy French, Mathematics Coordinator

    Hazelwood School District

    Florissant, MO

    Michael Horton, AVID Administrator

    Riverside County Office of Education

    Riverside, CA

    Jeff Ronneberg, Superintendent

    Spring Lake Park, MN

    Debbie Zacarian, Director

    Center for English Language Education and Center for Advancing Student Achievement at the Collaborative for Educational Services

    Northampton, MA

    About the Authors

    Carol Corbett Burris has served as principal of South Side High School in the Rockville Centre School District in New York since 2000. Prior to becoming a principal, she was a teacher at both the middle and high school level. She received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, and her dissertation, which studied her district's detracking reform in math, received the 2003 National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Middle Level Dissertation of the Year Award. In 2010, she was named the New York State Outstanding Educator by School Administrators Association of New York State.

    She is the coauthor, with Delia Garrity, of Detracking for Excellence and Equity. Articles that she has authored or coauthored have appeared in Educational Leadership, The Kappan, the American Educational Research Journal, The Teachers College Record, Theory Into Practice, The School Administrator, the American School Board Journal, and EdWeek. A chapter on closing the achievement gap, which she coauthored with Kevin Welner, appeared in Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Diversity in America's Schools, a volume edited by the Harvard Civil Rights Project. She can be reached at

    Delia T. Garrity was a public school educator for thirty-seven years, serving as a math teacher, teacher of the gifted, mathematics department chairperson, curriculum supervisor, assistant principal, and assistant superintendent. During her tenure as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Rockville Centre School District, New York, she provided the leadership in opening academic doors to all students and designed a comprehensive professional learning model for teachers and administrators. As assistant principal of South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre, Delia facilitated the school's transformation from a tracked system to one that offers an honors curriculum in heterogeneous classes for all students. She received the New York State Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year Award in 1996. She has taught graduate courses on mathematics education at Long Island University and is a guest lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a national educational consultant and presenter who works with educators to create equitable, heterogeneous classrooms where each student, including special education students, English language learners, and gifted students receive the same high quality, rich education. She coauthored Detracking for Excellence and Equity with Carol C. Burris and authored or coauthored articles in American School Board Journal, The School Administrator, and The Arithmetic Teacher. Delia can be reached at

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