Straight Up Conversation: Common Core Guru Jason Zimba

Rick Hess, via a kind reader’s email:

You didn’t think the ferment around Common Core could keep building? Hah! Prepare for several more years of increasing wackiness. In the middle of it all is Jazon Zimba, founding principal of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) and the man who is leading SAP after David Coleman went off to head up the College Board. SAP is a major player in Common Core implementation, especially with the aid of $18 million in support from the GE Foundation. Zimba was the lead writer on the Common Core mathematics standards. He earned his doctorate in mathematical physics from Berkeley, co-founded the Grow Network with Coleman, and previously taught physics and math at Bennington College. He’s a private dude who lives up in New England and has not been part of the Beltway policy conversation. I’d never met Zimba, until we had the chance to sit down last week.
Now, I think readers know that I’m of two minds when it comes to the Common Core. On the one hand, it does have the potential to bring coherence to the education space, shed light on who’s doing what, raise the bar for instructional materials and teacher prep, and so forth. On the other, there are about 5,000 ways the whole thing could go south or turn into a stifling bureaucratic monstrosity-and one rarely goes wrong when betting against our ability to do massive, complex edu-reforms well. Given all this, like many of you, I’m carefully watching how all this is playing out. In that spirit, I enjoyed meeting Zimba; found him smart and engaging; and thought you all might be equally interested in hearing from him. In particular, I’d love to hear how much Zimba’s responses do or don’t assuage various concerns about the Common Core. Here’s what he had to say (in an email interview that followed our conversation):
RH: How confident are you that teacher preparation programs are ready and able to alter their practice in light of the Common Core?
JZ: There is a long tradition of mathematicians partnering with education schools and local districts to enhance the mathematical education of teachers. The first thing I ever read about this was Richard Askey’s 1999 article in American Educator. The National Math Panel also made recommendations to improve teacher preparation in mathematics. But the fact that mathematicians have been working on the mathematical preparation of teachers for so long is really a good-news/bad-news story. The Common Core could bring some much-needed scale and impetus for change here.
I’ve heard about some of the alternative certification programs basing their training on the Common Core, and that makes sense because these programs tend to have national reach. As for traditional universities, I assume change will happen faster in some places but slowly in most. I would love to see some creative thinking about this from the universities themselves, but also from the states and districts who are their clients.