Policy brief

Implementing the Common Core State Standards in California Schools

A Work in Progress
School Work
Susan Moffitt
Brown University


California state leaders are asking new things of school leaders, teachers, and students.

The past decade has been a time of significant education reform. The transition began with the adoption of new academic standards for English language arts and mathematics based on the Common Core State Standards, and then later for science based on the Next Generation Science Standards. The state also passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which dramatically changed how school districts are funded and held accountable for their performance. With California’s newest academic standards, curriculum frameworks, and assessment system, the state is seeking to change what is happening in California’s schools and classrooms.

In the words of one California superintendent, achieving the shifts envisioned in the new standards “…requires teachers to change the way that they think about teaching and think about instruction and think about learning….”

The process of standards implementation has challenged local education leaders who must curate a vast array of instructional materials for quality and alignment with the new standards, provide strong professional development, and ultimately strengthen the abilities of their teaching staffs. All of this is taking place across an uneven terrain with respect to districts’ conditions and capacity. Even mapping the landscape of where and how changes have occurred is a daunting task. But understanding what progress has been made on the frontlines is essential for policymakers as they examine the impact of current policies and think about what might come next.

This brief summarizes two studies that describe the challenges local educators face as they implement the state’s new academic standards. The researchers report on educators’ opinions regarding actions taken to implement the new standards, and their insights into what is needed to continue making progress. The information comes from interviews and surveys that give voice to state and regional education leaders as well as those on the front lines of these changes.


  • Positive perceptions of the standards are accompanied by pleas to “stay the course” so the complex process of putting the standards into practice can take root.
  • Ambitious content and pedagogy shifts in the Common Core era underscore the importance of professional learning.
  • Teachers express both perceptions of improved instructional support and concerns about the suitability of their instructional materials.
  • Teachers are generally positive about their opportunities to learn the new standards, and professional learning systems for teachers increasingly focus on collaboration.
  • School principals play a pivotal role in standards implementation and depend on district support.

Neal Finkelstein


Suggested citationFinkelstein, N., & Moffitt, S. (2018, September). Getting down to facts II: Implementing the Common Core State Standards in California schools. A work in progress [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/implementing-common-core-state-standards-california-schools-work-progress