What is Common Core? This guide will help students and their parents better understand this educational initiative. Common Core is essentially a set of standards describing what students should know at each grade level. One of the chief aims at the outset of the development of these standards was to improve the math and science education of students. Another was to correct some of the flaws in the No Child Left Behind program. Today, Common Core addresses every aspect of public education by giving states the opportunity to lead the way in education reform.
The push for reform came from a growing awareness among educators and policy makers in America that American students were falling behind the rest of the world when it came to math and sciences, engineering and technology The keys to catching back up with the rest of the world were judged to be rooted in establishing standards for each grade level in the English Language Arts and Mathematics disciplines. The nature of Common Core is to establish a common standard among all participating states throughout the U.S. The goal of Common Core is to enable students who graduate from a Common Core curriculum to be ready to enter a university so they can continue their education.
One of the reasons behind Common Core was the idea that students from all states should be educated at the same level so that families who move from one state to another are not adversely impacted when their children switch schools. With every student learning the same subject in the same manner under Common Core, families would not have to worry that their children would lose ground in their academic careers.
The need for consistency in education throughout the U.S. was something the states had been considering for years. In the 1990s, standards had been written that identified what students at each grade level should need to know. Assessments were also developed to show whether students were meeting these standards.
For example, a Common Core standard for 8th Grade students in English Language Arts is the following:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
Standards like these help teachers and schools all over the nation know what educational goals they should be striving to reach with their students.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Department of Education sought ways to reform education. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was one such reform program. NCLB was signed in 2001 and it basically updated the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The main focus of NCLB was to make sure students were progressing—testing students was the main way in which the schools determined this. One of the big problems with NCLB, however, was that there was an incentive among schools to have their teachers “teach” to the test so that funding, which hinged upon successful test scores, could be obtained. Common Core sought to address that deficiency by more clearly delineating what students should be able to do and how they should be assessed. This helped to remove some of the risk of “teaching” to the test. Instead, teachers would teach to the standard.
One of the ways Common Core helps teachers and schools to focus teaching on specific educative outcomes is by way of the establishment of guidelines for every grade level, from K to 12. Practically speaking, The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (“the standards”) serve as the road map for teachers, students and schools that will help to ensure learners acquire the skills and knowledge needed to excel at the next level. One of the big ways Common Core does this is by asking students
To read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life (English Language Arts Standards).
Common Core did not appear overnight, however. It came about over years and years of planning and envisioning by some of the leading lights all across America—from business leaders to statesmen.
In 1996, state governors and business leaders banded together to create Achieve, Inc., “a nonprofit education organization that has spent two decades leading the effort to help states make college and career readiness a priority for all students.” They joined efforts at the National Education Summit and within two years the organization had begun its Academic Standards and Assessments Benchmarking Pilot Project. This project focused on developing standards that state schools could accept as benchmarks that their students could be expected to achieve.
By 2001, Achieve had grown and was now networking with other entities, such as the Education Trust, Thomas B. Fordham Institute and National Alliance of Business. Together these organizations started the American Diploma Project, the purpose of which was to define what types of knowledge and skills employers wanted their employees to have. In other words, the Project focused on identifying real world skills that students should learn so that they are viewed as valuable to employers when they enter the workplace.
In 2004, the American Diploma Project released a popular report entitled “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts.” It was this report that identified the “common core” standards that would later serve as the foundation for Common Core adopted in 2010. The report was widely viewed as one of the most influential educational studies ever. It highlighted the fact that too many high school graduates were leaving school without ever having acquired the skills and knowledge necessary for college or real world workplaces. In other words, it showed that the public school system was a mess, failing to give students the education they needed to succeed. The report indicated that standardization would help to address this problem.
Achieve continued to promote its “common core” agenda to help get schools aligned in terms of producing college ready students. By 2007, it had developed a common Algebra II end-of-course assessment. The assessment quickly became the most common multi-state assessment in the U.S. The following year, Achieve released another report promoting standardization among states, showing that when states adopted education standards, students went on to excel at college.
In 2009, the Common Core standards work began. Achieve worked with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to develop the standards, and several Achieve staffers served as writers and reviewers. The final version of the Common Core State Standards was released in 2010.
The National Governors Association selected a team of academics and businessmen to help write the standards for the Common Core State Standards. This team consisted of, among others, David Coleman—president of the College Board that designed the SAT and AP exams, and the one often cited as the architect of the Common Core standards; William McCallum, University Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at University of Arizona; Phil Daro, a senior fellow at a for-profit curriculum and teacher-training company named America's Choice and one who had also taken part in developing California’s math standards; and Founding Partners of Student Achievement Partners, Jason Zimba and Susan Pimentel. The team focused on developing standards that would guide teachers and students towards allowing learners to acquire real world skills.
Following the publication of the Common Core standards, it became clear that schools also needed English Language Proficiency Development (ELPD) standards. Essentially, schools had been on their own all this time, and now they were finally receiving direction from professionals who had a vested interested in getting everyone together on the same page. Schools and states did not want to have to develop standards on their own: they realized that they lacked the insight and expertise needed to write such standards. Thus, they turned again to the team behind Common Core, and new initiatives were put into development to help them with ELPD
These initiatives included World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA), a consortium of many states focused on providing standardized assessments for English language learners. An English language proficiency development framework was also put into development. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) International Association were included in these initiatives.
Even the U.S. Department of Education got involved. It provided funds in the form of grants to develop ELPD assessments that schools could use. Thus, it really was a team effort between state and federal authorities along with business leaders and academics. One of the keys to the new assessments that teachers would use was that the system would include both diagnostic and summative tests, and that tests could be scored using available technology to maximize efficiency.
In the years that have passed since 2010, nearly every U.S. state has adopted the Common Core standards. Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Alaska and South Carolina are the states still holding out. And Minnesota adopted the standards for English but not for math. The rollout of Common Core has not been without controversy. State legislators in a dozen states have introduced bills to ban Common Core in their states.
One of the chief complaints among parents is that they are unfamiliar with the methods of education, particularly in math, that the students are being given. Parents remember an older form of learning—but the Common Core standards and assessments have introduced a new teaching methodology. The majority of states readily adopted Common Core, however, because they were incentivized by the federal government to do so. President Obama promised Race to the Top grant money for schools that adopted the educational reform program. With monetary rewards being promised to many struggling schools if they adopted Common Core, it was a no brainer: Common Core would at least be tried—after all, it couldn’t be any worse than what schools were already using. Yet, states like Virginia and Texas chose to write their own standards—and so long as they were judged internationally acceptable they too would be eligible for grant money from the federal government. Common Core standards and assessments were essentially an easy option for schools to take if their states did not want to take the trouble of crafting their own standards.
The important thing was to get states involved in standardizing education.
The standards were introduced to help get students both college and career ready. To that end, they focused on reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and media and technology usage.
From grades K to 12, students are expected to develop an increasing ability to read and understand complex texts. Reading comprehension is thus seen as an important element of the Common Core standards. While teachers, schools, school districts and states all decide together on what texts should be used in the curriculum, Common Core does provide its own recommendations for readings. Thus, Common Core gives guidance not just in terms of standards and assessments but also in terms of subjects and texts that should be read in schools. The recommended texts range from mythology to contemporary literature by Amy Tan and others. Classics by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Shakespeare are also included in the recommended texts.
Logical writing is one of the main focuses of the Common Core standards. Students are expected to be able to understand arguments, make claims, use evidence to support those claims, and engage in opinion writing. The Common Core calls for short essays and research writing that are focused on specific topics so that students learn how to write accurately and precisely. They are also given guidance on writing longer papers so that they are ready for college level writing by the time they graduate. Students learn to use annotated texts so that they can refer to footnotes for explanation of why certain writing samples are considered effective.
The ability to speak and listen is essential in the real world of business, so it is no surprise that Common Core also focuses on providing standards for these skills. Students are thus expected to be able to speak effectively as well as to listen effectively, which means being able to repeat back to a speaker what the speaker has just said and demonstrate understanding of the words. Speaking and listening are 21st century skills that businesses look for in new hires, and the especially important for management positions. To facilitate the development of these skills, schools are expected to put students in small groups so that students can engage in one-on-one discussions, group discussions, and whole-class presentations. The more that students learn to and get practice in speaking and listening the more likely they will be to find a place in the real world workplace environment.
Vocabulary is the key to language and students from K to 12 are expected to develop their vocabulary each year they are in school. Common Core provides standards that focus on learning the ways to express oneself in a variety of settings—i.e., informal and formal situations in which vocabulary expectations are different. What words a student would use among friends are not necessarily going to be appropriate among professionals—and students need to learn the difference between appropriateness of terms in formal and informal settings. Common Core helps students to see how language is a tool that can facilitate interactions and build relationships in the real world—but also that there is a right way and wrong way to use this tool. The standards for language are written to show what types of vocabulary are useful in which kind of settings, and how language itself can be utilized to achieved various aims. Conventions receive a great deal of focus in this particular area.
In the 21st century, media and technology are everywhere and students need practice understanding and using both. For that reason, Common Core gives some attention to standards that will make sure students obtain familiarity with each. Keyboarding—i.e., learning to type on a keyboard—is thus considered an essential standard in Common Core, while learning to write in cursive is not. In the digital age of the real world, people write using computers and that is why keyboarding is seen as such a valuable skill to have.
Mathematics standards are also important and Common Core uses a critical thinking approach to math in order to get students to where they need to be so that they are ready for the real world. This is one area where many parents feel Common Core is deviating too far from traditional modes of learning. However, the skills that are learned from the Common Core curriculum include learning how to problem solve, how to read word problems and understand them, learning how to model with math, learning about precision and structure, and learning about measurements, how to use data, and so on. Students are still taught to add, subtract, multiply and divide. They are still taught about fractions and how to use them. They are still taught the fundamentals of geometry. But as they age, they are also taught to think critically about mathematic problems so that they can interpret expressions and provide the right content to word problems.
Assessments are also a big part of what Common Core has given to schools and in keeping with the idea of media and technology usage assessments are meant to be computer-based. This makes the tests easier to grade for teachers and more reflective of the real world type of tests students must take once they graduate and have to apply for a job that requires them to take a preliminary test.
Kentucky was the first state to adopt Common Core standards and the state’s graduation rate increased following adoption. However, not everyone agrees that Common Core’s effect is beneficial across the board. Some have found it to be a negative factor among fourth grade readers and 8th grade students struggling with math. The fact that there are all types of learners, however, indicates that some students will find the curriculum frustrating. Overall, though, the curriculum should be helpful for many other students.
Common Core is a standards and assessment program that states have been given and incentivized to embrace by the federal government. It began as a result of Achieve, Inc. getting involved in the educational process. Achieve consisted of academic and business leaders uniting to help establish a guide for teachers, schools, states and students that would allow the latter to pick up the skills and knowledge needed for succeed in the real world and in higher education. The more that students are given a real world orientation in the classroom, the more likely they are to see where they need to focus and concentrate their efforts.
Common Core has come with some controversy and not every state has embraced it. Moreover, numerous states have legislators who are actively engaged in legally prohibiting Common Core from being implemented. Depending on one’s own views, some may find Common Core to be too revolutionary, while others may be happy about what it provides and how it provides it. At the end of the day Common Core standards provide schools with something they lacked in the past—a common set of standards that will allow schools to teach to subjects rather than to tests, which was the case under No Child Left Behind. Instead of teaching to tests, Common Core focuses on what needs to be learned and why, and then gives teachers to the tools to help make it happen.