The Backwards Decision Tree: Truly Making the Common Core Work

If educational decision makers really believe that the Common Core is the Holy Grail for 21st century learning it follows that they want to see that its implementation is both done properly and that its momentum will sustain itself. Momentum, and sustainability of so-called educational reforms are not usually what characterizes educational planning.

One way to future-proof its implementation would be to use a Decision Tree. That is, there are processes leaders can use to anticipate a future and can help leaders build toward that preferable future. Clearly this recurring theme is anchored once again in both how we perceive what our future will be and what we consider the basic function of education is in the first place.

You can, you see, build toward that preferable future if you think about the control you have over it.

This Common Core push is partially attributed to I think, by the recognition that what we are teaching now is mostly “empty calories”, that is, teaching that does not prepare the learner for the future at hand.

The best future careers according to, by Glen Craig and taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics are

– Healthcare

– Engineering

– Technology

– Education

– Entrepreneurs

– Sales

Distill these needs. Of course in each case each profession requires a content / knowledge base. Then go deeper. Each profession requires that their practitioners can think on their feet, problem solve, collaborate, and create.

Marie O’ Doherty, a Common Core Standards Specialist for Sachem Schools pointed out to me that ” “for students to be ready for college, workforce training and life in a technological society, they must be able to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information, and ideas.”

We also know that future workers will likely change jobs at least four times across their work career. If that is so, and it seems likely that it is then we find yet another justification for getting deeper into the Common Core expectations than I suspect they are being currently implemented as. By that I mean, schools may be putting CCS into place and are also hopefully providing accompanying professional development, yet the quality of the both implementation and training may yet be cursory and superficial!

Therefore to make it work and make it last true edufuturing planning must be used.


Basically you work your future backward. That is, you envision the future that you prefer factored against and with your estimation of trends and developments in the future. Then you work backward from that.

Let me give you an example…

In 2014 I will be 25 pounds less than I weigh right now in February 2013.

So, in March 2013 I will lose 3 pounds. In April 2013 I will lose 3 pounds. And so on.

Of course understand that this is (while really difficult for yours truly) a very simple example. What’s missing for example is that in February 2013 I probably should also decide on a plan to lose that 3 pounds a month and factor that in. For example,

In February 2013 I will join a gym and go there 5 times a week for an hour a day.

In March 2013 I will increase my water intake by 50 % and reduce fats by 10%.

This plan obviously has more meat on it (no pun intended).

An EduFuture example:

By 2015 Common Core Standards implementation in 2013 will result in an increased graduation rate of 5%. (You can argue the quality of the preferred future I cite, it is meant as an example)

How would you train a group of stakeholders to think this way? How would you hold their hands to the fire?

Work backwards. If you mean to use CCS as a basis for increasing the graduation rate what must you do in 2014? What must you do NOW?


What is the First Thing you Thing you Think of When I Say “Ship”?

You’ve brought your students through the left brain distilling process where they’ve boiled off the detritus of excessive trivia and have narrowed down to the issues or questions they wish to solve.

Now it’s time to reverse engines and reverse thinking too. Because now you need to promote lateral, creative thinking.

What is the first thing you think of when I say “ship”? Try it on yourself and with others. Almost always it is “The Nina”, or “The Mayflower”. Something like that. Sooner or later, you will have to model this by offering up “The Starship Enterprise” or something like that. Doing so sends the message to your students to stretch their thinking beyond the obvious. If you really want to impress them, say, “CitizenSHIP”, or “FellowSHIP.”

That will get their attention and more importantly will begin to encourage some creative thinking.

For sure, there are many idea fluency, idea generating strategies! In another post I will offer up some specific references. The point here is that you are modeling and using strategies that are meant to encourage Divergent, that is spread-out thinking where they may likely be NO specific answer.

Could Goldilocks and the Three Bears have ended differently? What would have happened if the South had wind the Civil War? Are there more than one conclusion you can draw from that graph? From that slide specimen?

The possibilities are endless because creativity can be endless too.

Using this process even as in the next post we’ll return to Convergent Thinking, THAT Convergent Thinking will be a whole lot richer in complexity and in risk-taking than if the teacher had never empowered her students to think differently, to risk!