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New national survey shows principals feel unprepared for successful implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

principals-school-common coreIt’s no surprise that schools across the country are gearing up for implementation of Common Core, with many teachers and school principals fully aware of what the standards encompass. However, according to a new national survey, knowing Common Core is easy…but sustaining the new standards over time? Not so much.

The survey, “Leadership for the Common Core,” developed by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), polled 1,000 principals in 14 states that have adopted CCSS. According to the survey, more than 80 percent of principals “overwhelmingly support the CCSS initiative and have a strong willingness to continue to engage deeply in instructional leadership activities as states move forward.”

100 percent principals are also “familiar with the standards and curricular changes” that must accompany CCSS, and most had received “some level of professional development (PD) to lead teachers, families and students” through the Common Core transition.

Yet, despite their enthusiasm, over 70 percent of principals surveyed said they lacked the “necessary preparation to lead and sustain the vision of CCSS over the long term.”

(Next page: Long term doesn’t look good)

Long term doesn’t look good

For principals, knowing what the Common Core asks of teachers and students is fairly straight-forward, and many have received extensive PD on the beginning steps of implementation (e.g. curriculum and instructional changes, state law, and implementation timelines); however, there’s more to CCSS than memorizing the Standards’ expectations.

For example, principals described needing “more adequate preparation and professional development in specific leadership areas,” such as how to:

  • Manage the change process in the schools
  • Evaluate teachers’ use of the new standards during instruction
  • Align the schools’ instructional focus
  • Make key decisions on the best types of PD to support teachers
  • Develop extended learning opportunities

“[The] survey indicate[s] principals are carrying out a delicate balancing act when initiating integration of the new standards,” say the report’s authors, Matt Clifford from the American Institutes for Research, and Christine Mason from the Center for Educational Improvement at the NAESP Foundation. “They are attempting to initiate change—which they enthusiastically support—without full knowledge of the costs, strategies or monitoring approaches because few have [PD] on leadership processes.”

According to the survey, principals say they are extremely “under-prepared” to support individual change for CCSS and integrating CCSS practices into the organization.

Because of this lack of preparation, less than 50 percent of the respondents reported that they had upgraded curriculum materials or technology to support long-term Common Core implementation.

And more than 70 percent had not taken action to integrate the Common Core into expanded learning opportunities, special education programs, or English-Language Learner (ELL) programs, which provide important services to students.

Another major implementation setback? The ever-dwindling budget.

“A majority of principals surveyed said that they need sufficient allocation of financial resources to implement the array of school-based activities related to CCSS, or for their schools and teachers,” noted the report; but, as all schools know, the Common Core mandate “does not include sufficient funding for implementation at the building level.”

(Next page: Where to go from here)

Where to go from here

Noting research from vetted studies, the report emphasized that principals are integral to school success, stating that “effective schools are operated by effective leaders.”

“The role of the principal has been seriously overlooked in far too many national and state-level discussions related to college and career-ready state standards, particularly in the evolution, state adoption and implementation of the CCSS,” said Gail Connelly, executive director of NAESP. “This is a profound and disturbing oversight given the research substantiating the role of principals as the primary catalyst for change and improvement in schools.”

The report noted that principals are often “local change facilitators” and their position makes them responsible for setting instructional improvement priorities, channeling resources toward initiatives, engaging staff in curriculum revision, supporting PD, assessing teacher performance, and much more.

Which leads to the question: “If principals aren’t sure how to sustain Common Core, can schools truly succeed in CCSS implementation long-term?”

Outside of potentially inadequate teacher evaluations, curricular changes, and special needs programs, the execution of online assessments related to CCSS will also fail if critical gaps in principal-readiness are not addressed, said Connelly, as well as ensuring the proper technology and infrastructure needed to administer CCSS and collect data.

The report suggests that, considering the context in which the CCSS are being implemented—in this “era of change and increased demands”—principals be better versed in “what might be termed ‘adaptive leadership.’”

Yet, “to date, comparatively few resources have been set aside or provided specifically to prepare principals to adapt to the changes that are expected with the Common Core,” said the report.

Another suggestion would be for third-party researchers to take a look at school Personal Learning Communities (PLCs) and develop best practices.

“Given that most principals in [the survey] report that they are using PLCs, it could be instructive to know more about how these Common Core PLCs are structured, how they vary, and the progress they are making in planning for the Common Core and making changes in curriculum and instruction.”

“NAESP is concerned about the stress that principals are experiencing today,” concluded the report. “If the Common Core State Standards are going to bring about the intended changes, then the results from our sample suggest that principals need to be more involved—they need more guidance about their role, more input into this specific change process, and more resources available for direct implementation of the Common Core in their schools.”

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Meris Stansbury

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