You may have caught wind of the debate surrounding common core standards in schools, or maybe you’ve seen examples of common core homework assignments posted on social media by confused parents, but do you really know what the common core standards are? Or how might they impact your child’s education?

Consistent Standards For All Students

It all started as a pretty reasonable (and simple) sounding idea, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) wanted to establish consistent educational standards across states to help ensure students graduating from high school would be prepared to enter credit-bearing courses at a 2-4 year college or to enter the workforce. They believed creating one set of challenging academic expectations for all U.S. students would improve achievement and college readiness. It would also allow for comparisons of student achievement between states. Sounds simple enough, right?  

To write the standards, the NGA and CCSSO assembled “work groups” that included university professors, leaders of education advocacy groups, and experts from testing companies. Under pressure from teachers’ unions, they also added K-12 teachers to the groups. There was a huge wave of Common Core State Standard adoptions in 2010 and 2011 (all but four states adopted the standards).  

But then criticism of the program started and there was a bit of a backlash. By 2015, three states (IN, OK, SC) reversed their earlier adoption of the program and other states have backed away from their promises to use consortium assessment tests to measure mastery of the Common Core. Currently, Forty-two of the fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia are members of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, though not all those states are onboard with the assessment testing.

What Are The Common Core Standards?

Basically, they are descriptions of the skills students should have at each grade level in English/language arts and math by the time they finish high school. They’re not a day-to-day curriculum, the Common Core are a broad outline of learning expectations from which local administrators and/or teachers can build a curriculum.

The English Language/Arts Standards document emphasizes a student’s’ ability to read complex literary and informational texts, and cite evidence from them in constructing arguments and interpretations. There are five key components to the standards for English and Language Arts – Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Language, and Media and Technology.  

The stated goal of the Math Standards document is to achieve greater focus and coherence in the math curriculum. The standards mandate that eight principles of mathematical practice be taught in school. These practices are to be taught in every grade, from kindergarten through twelfth. Details of how these practices are to be connected to each grade level’s mathematics content are left to local districts. The eight principles are:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.


What Caused The Common Core Backlash?

There are still many educators, politicians, and analysts that support the Common Core Standard. The backlash is primarily centered around the involvement of the federal government in state education. The idea that all states should share a single set of standards is upsetting to some conservatives who see it as an attempt to weaken states’ rights. Some liberals are also upset because they fear a “one-size-fits-all” approach to topics will negatively impact a teacher’s ability to tailor curriculum for their individual student’s needs.  

Beyond the state’s’ rights issue, some educators and activists object to the content of the standards themselves. As an example, people have cited the fact that computer literacy and coding are not included in the math standards as a problem, while others object to the English standards increased focus on nonfiction reading as they fear it will downplay the importance of literature in the classroom.  

Despite the misgivings of some, many educators still feel like the Common Core Standards are superior to the standards that were previously in place. According to the National Education Associate, Common Core is supported by 76% of its teacher members.  

Is Common Core Working?

Let’s rephrase the question; Do we now have higher, shared standards across states and a decent way to compare student performance from state to state? Not exactly. Many districts have been slow to implement the standards, due to budget cuts and a lack of resources, amongst other reasons. The vision of Common Core was to have a formal assessment process in place to measure results. The assessments are being created by two consortiums with different online testing approaches(PARCC and Smarter Balanced) but to date, not all states are onboard with the consortiums and several have left the consortium process altogether to pursue development of their own test.  

Without states adopting one of the two consortium assessments, the likelihood of being able to compare student performance across states decreases. However, anecdotal reports suggest that teachers in many districts are using the standards to improve their individual curriculums. Time Magazine reported that the state of Kentucky, an early adopter of Common Core, raised their graduation rate from 80% in 2010 to 86% in 2013, and their test scores went up 2% points higher after two years of using the Common Core test.

Almost everyone agrees that the original idea behind Common Core was a good one, to prepare U.S. students for better college and work results, and to establish a common bar by which students could be measured. However the debate about whether this bar should be at the state or federal level, and what standards will be used to build the bar continues.

If you want to know where your child’s school stands on the issue, ask! Talk to the teachers and administrators to find out what drives their curriculum and test assessments. This is a policy and political issue for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s also a personal one for us parents as we try to get the best education possible for our kids.

Learn more about the Common Core Standards here.

Has your child’s school adopted the Common Core Standards? Any teachers out there want to weigh on how you’re using (or not using) Common Core to shape your curriculum? Share your comments and ideas in our Education Community.