Common Core — what is it and how does it work?
Editor’s note: The explanatory information in this article is from the Common Core website. A follow-up to this article will address the other side — opposition to Common Core and problems that have surfaced.
By Susan Johnson
In 2009, the Common Core State Standards was launched by state leaders, including governors and commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia. It was done through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
While aiming to improve our educational system, the program has not been without controversy. Praised by some, condemned by others, the Core has been implemented in all 50 states, though some governors initially rejected it and four states have repealed it. This article will examine what it is and what benefits are available to school systems.
According to the website www.corestandards.org: “Common Core State Standards provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning.
“The standards are: 1) Research and evidence based; 2) Clear, understandable, and consistent; 3) Aligned with college and career expectations; 4) Based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills; 5) Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards; 6) Informed by other top-performing countries to prepare all students for success in our global economy and society.”
What is the Common Core? State education chiefs and governors worked on developing the standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Today, 46 states have adopted the standards designed to lead to two- or four-year college programs.
Were teachers involved in the creation of the standards? Yes. Teachers and standards experts from across the country served on work groups and feedback groups. The National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and National Council Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), among others, provided feedback.
Why are Common Core State Standards important? High standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents and students with clear expectations so that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career and life. These standards are aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs and employers. Unlike previous state standards, which varied widely from state to state, the Common Core enables collaboration among states on a range of tools and policies.
What guidance do the Common Core State Standards provide to teachers? They provide shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level. The standards establish what students need to learn, but teachers are allowed to devise their own lesson plans and curriculum so that instruction can be tailored to the students’ individual needs.
How do the Common Core State Standards compare to previous education standards? The program was developed by building on the best state standards in the U.S., examining the expectations of other high-performing countries, and studying the research and literature concerning what students need to know and be able to do. No state was asked to lower their expectations for students. The evidence-based standards were developed in consultation with teachers and parents from across the country.
How much will it cost to implement the Common Core State Standards? Costs vary from state to state and territory. While states already spend significant amounts of money on professional development, curriculum materials and assessments, some additional costs may be incurred, such as training teachers, developing and purchasing new materials, and other aspects of implementation. But many resources can be saved by using technology, open-source materials, and taking advantage of cross-state opportunities.
Key shifts in English Language Arts and Mathematics
Key shifts in English Language Arts are: 1) Regular practice with complex texts and their academic language; 2) Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational; 3) Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction. Key shifts in mathematics are: 1) Greater focus on fewer topics; 2) Coherence: Linking topics and thinking across grades; 3) Rigor: Pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity.
Myths about Content and Quality
Myth: Adopting common standards means bringing all states’ standards down to the lowest common denominator. This means that states with high standards are actually taking a step backwards by adopting Common Core.
Fact: The standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college, career and life. This results in moving even the best state standards to the next level.
Myth: The Common Core State Standards are not internationally benchmarked.
Fact: Standards from top-performing countries played a significant role in the development of the math and English language arts/literacy standards. The college- and career-ready standards provide an appendix listing the evidence that was consulted in drafting the standards, including international standards that were consulted.
Myth: The standards only include skills and do not address the importance of content knowledge.
Fact: The standards recognize that both content and skills are important. The English language arts standards require certain critical content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. The remaining crucial decisions about content are made at state and local levels.
The mathematics standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges. They prepare students to think and reason mathematically.
Myths about Implementation
Myth: The standards tell teachers what to teach.
Fact: Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach.
Myth: Teachers will be left to implement the standards without any support or guidelines.
Fact: Decisions on how to implement the standards are made at the state and local levels. As such, states and localities are taking different approaches to implementing the standards and providing their teachers with the supports they need to help students reach the standards.
Myth: The standards will be implemented through No Child Left Behind (NCLB), signifying that the federal government will be leading them.
Fact: The Common Core is a state-led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began to create clear, consistent standards before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided funding for the Race to the Top grant program. It also began before the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint was released.
Myth: These standards were adopted by states as part of the Race to the Top grant program.
Fact: The federal government gave competitive advantage to Race to the Top applicants that demonstrated that they had or planned to adopt college- and career-ready standards for all students. The program did not specify the Common Core or prevent states from creating their own, separate college- and career-ready standards. States and territories voluntarily chose to adopt the Common Core.
Myth: These standards amount to a national curriculum for our schools.
Fact: The Common Core is not a curriculum. It is a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents, and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students.
Fact: The federal government will not govern the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core was and will remain a state-led effort. The NGA Center and CCSSO are committed to developing a long-term governance structure with leadership from governors, chief state school officers, and other state policymakers to ensure the quality of the Common Core and that teachers and principals have a strong voice in the future of the standards. States and local school districts will drive implementation of the Common Core.
Myth: The Common Core State Standards will result in a national database of private student information.
Fact: There are no data collection requirements for states adopting the standards. Standards define expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. Implementing the standards does not require data collection. The means of assessing students and the use of the data that result from these assessments are up to the discretion of each state and are separate and unique from the Common Core.
Application to Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities — students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers.
For students with disabilities to meet high academic standards and to fully demonstrate their conceptual and procedural knowledge and skills in mathematics, reading, writing, speaking and listening (English language arts), their instruction must incorporate supports and accommodations.
How is Common Core implemented in Rockford?
Illinois adopted the standards in 2010. So far, they’ve been applied to math and English language arts. New science standards have been approved for the 2016-2017 school year. In an article dated March 3, 2014, Rockford Education Association President Dawn Granath and District 205 Superintendents Ehren Jarrett discussed the goals of Common Core for Rockford schools with WNIJ’s Susan Stephens and the Rockford Register Star’s Corinna Curry. School districts are required to start using federal standardized tests next year.
From the Sept. 10-16, 2014, issue