The Common Core State Standards: What is Happening?

Sally Rushmore edits the New Teacher Advocate. She formerly taught secondary science and computer applications at a community college.

I live in Indiana, the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and then formally reverse that adoption. And Indiana is the first state to replace those standards with their own. However, they are not alone in reversing their thinking. The New York Assembly approved a measure that requires a two-year delay in using assessments aligned with the CCSS for teacher and principal evaluations. In fact, lawmakers in 15 states have introduced legislation to repeal the standards or replace them with state-specific standards, with Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma on their way to making major changes.

So what are the facts? What are the myths? What is really happening?

The idea behind common core is laudable and becoming increasingly necessary. The idea for common core standards did not come from the government in Washington, D.C., but came from a collaboration of those most important to running education in each state—the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center). They simply wanted the increasingly mobile and global society to be able to move from state to state and have their children pick up where they left off with no huge repeats of what they had learned and no gaping holes in their knowledge that would later cause them to fail in coursework.

At the time, most states had some form of standards, but some states had very sketchy standards and some had very rigorous, detailed standards with very specific outcomes. The content for math in third grade in one state did not necessarily match the content for third grade math even in a neighboring state, so the child that moved across state lines could have gotten A’s in math in the first state and be frustrated and failing in the new state. The leaders of the states’ departments of education and the governors of the states were very excited to have a plan to make education more “normalized” among the states and did not intend for the Common Core State Standards to be viewed as a national curriculum.

Indiana was a state with rigorous and detailed state standards. Some groups in Indiana felt that these new standards were not as rigorous and had not been proven to help students be more successful in college or careers than what Indiana had been using. Textbooks have not been written or aligned with the CCSS. Teachers need many resources to teach in the ways described by the CCSS, so without reliable sources for resources and without ready-make units or textbooks (along with student books and auxiliary materials like CDs and DVDs), teachers are having to spend many, many hours preparing for each class. Two consortia are writing assessments to be used with CCSS, but they have not been used enough to know if they are assessing what is being taught.

In essence, those states taking another look at the CCSS are working to delay their full implementation of CCSS. In Indiana, for example, a group of educators and parents worked feverishly to write a new set of state standards (officially adopted April 28) which use Indiana’s former standards but add in the 21st century learning pieces—more emphasis on academic vocabulary, complex text, close reading, and informational text—and rearrange them to be taught in the same grade levels as the CCSS. Teachers can use the same resources and add new ones, or teachers can work with other teachers in their buildings who have been teaching the concept to build units and lessons. This allows time for teachers to prepare and students to learn to make the shifts in thinking that are necessary. It also gives time to re-think the assessments. And it allows teachers to figure out how to coordinate the increased emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), how to bring English Learners up to speed, and how to differentiate these standards so that all students are engaged and learning. It also gives the states time to provide funding for needed professional development and development of resources for teachers.

Common core opponents in Indiana reacted angrily, producing their own report and stating that the state’s effort was a farce since there are elements of common core included in the new standards. Because of No Child Left Behind and other high-stakes testing initiatives, such as Race to the Top, in recent years, teachers and parents are very skeptical of new initiatives and new assessments. It doesn’t help that the national government has offered financial incentives to states that adopt the CCSS and that it has provided $360 million to the two state consortia developing the assessments for CCSS.

Florida has taken a different tactic. They took suggestions from the public and added things like cursive handwriting and calculus to the CCSS. And they dropped out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two consortia developing assessments. Meanwhile, South Carolina withdrew from the other consortium, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

See which states belong to which consortium and also which states are in what stage of implementing the Common Core State Standards. Then, if you have not had the opportunity, take a look at the English Language Arts standards (which cover other “reading” subjects like science and social studies) or the Math standards.

Post your comments. We want to hear from teachers from every state! Are you using them? Will you be using them this fall? What do you think?

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