Confused about the Common Core? Join the crowd. A polarizing topic in educational systems across the country, the Common Core Standards, also referred to as the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI), are frequently misunderstood by those who are affected by it — the teachers responsible for implementing them. But armed with the objective information you need, you can assess the benefits of the Common Core to help you do what you do best: provide optimal educational experiences for the students who are counting on you.
Background In an effort to standardize the definitions of educational proficiency among states, the development of the Common Core Standards started in 2009. Those leading the charge included governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia. Various sources and criteria for development included existing standards, input from educators, content experts, state leaders, thought leaders and the public.
The development process only included English-language arts and mathematics, and occurred in two stages. The college- and career-readiness standards were developed first, and were later integrated into the K-12 standards to form the final version of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that exist today. Decisions to adopt the finalized CCSS occur through a state-by-state voluntary process — usually by state school boards, but occasionally by the state superintendent of education, State Legislature or governor. Currently, 44 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have adopted the CCSS and are implementing them according to their own schedules. This state standards site provides specific information about the current status of adoption for each state.
Pros of the Common Core
One of the greatest advocates for the CCSS has been Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. Citing the need to keep the nation competitive with other countries, Gates feels educational standardization will lead to higher scores and improved math competency to meet the needs of global competition. “This is going to be a big win for education.”
Another is Wendy Pillars, who has been teaching English-language learners and special needs students for many years. She says that the CCSS fit perfectly with the problem-solving methods she’s been using all along. “It’s a perfect pedagogical fit for the common standards, which posit that learning is not only about what you know, but about how you communicate that knowledge to others.” Pillars says her students have participated in the supervised use of a variety of communication tools — like Twitter and Skype — to develop global competencies, while simultaneously mastering the Common Core Standards.
In a nutshell, advocates may see the following benefits of the Common Core:
U.S. educational rankings will improve on a global scale.
The educational community will benefit from more professional development opportunities.
Costs to create tests will be lower due to standardized formats and scoring.
Students will have improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Educators will have the ability to individually track student progress.
Students will enjoy a smoother transition between schools if they move to a new home.
Classroom curricula will have an increase in academic rigor.
All educators, parents and students will understand learning expectations.
State-to-state comparisons will be more consistent.
Cons of the Common Core
Some states have been dragging their collective feet in implementation, with leaders citing concerns that the CCSS represent a federal takeover of education. In April 2013, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution calling it “a nationwide straightjacket.”
Though her concerns have a different focus, Jeanie Behrend agrees that implementation will not be easy. A math education professor at California State University, Behrend says the shift to problem-solving strategies is going to be a challenge for both teachers and students, especially since teachers say they’ve received little training. In the current system, “It’s easy [for teachers] to focus on memorization of facts and memorization of procedures without really identifying the important mathematics” behind them and passing these concepts on to students.
Overall, critics cite the following concerns about the Common Core:
Teachers and students must make an extra effort to adapt to new teaching and learning methods.
The standards lack specificity.
There is an increased requirement for high-stakes testing.
States that have higher standards must now accept lower standards due to the CCSS.
Children with special needs lose access to different learning and testing tools.
A lack of state-to-state standardization for science and social studies.
Educators may quit their position or retire from the field due to implementation challenges.
Resources A common frustration teachers cite is the lack of training and support regarding the Common Core. If you’re struggling with implementation in your classroom, you may find the following CCSS-aligned resources helpful
By understanding the pros and cons of the Common Core Standards, as well as practical tools for implementation, you’ll be able to align with your colleagues across the country to give students the educational experiences they (and you) deserve.