Educators can hardly escape the buzz, but when you ask families and community members what they’ve heard about the Common Core State Standards, often the response is a blank stare.
So if you know all about them, feel free to skip over this (scintillating, absorbing) blog post. For the rest of you, please do read on…
To date, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and focus on K-12 grade level learning in Language Arts and Mathematics. Rather than a patchwork of grade-level educational standards developed state-by-state, CCSS is an alignment of standards across the nation. That is, the expectations for what a fourth grader is learning in math in Maine, Missouri and Montana are all the same. It’s worth quoting the mission statement of CCSS in full:
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.
Thus, CCSS is looked upon by many as an equalizer – vigorous standards across the nation, ensuring that all students learn the same types of things, in the same depth, at the same time in their educational career. There have been some big names in the education world – organizations such as the Gates Foundation, the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM), National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to name but a few – that have thrown their weight behind CCSS. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, states that “[n]ations whose students outperform those in the United States have used common, robust standards to guide the teacher and bring coherence to the whole education endeavor… The contrast between what they do to succeed and what goes on in U.S. schools is stark: common core standards vs. 50 sets of standards; building instructional capacity and creating incentives vs. simply measuring student learning through test scores and sanctions if we don’t measure up; collaborative efforts vs. top-down management.”
“Not so fast,” say the critics. On one hand, there are those who say that CCSS pushes kids too hard. Still others decry the makeup of the committees developing the standards; for instance, according to writer and teacher Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige (an emerita professor of early childhood education), of the 135 people developing the early childhood standards, none were “a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.” A 2012 study published by the Brookings Institute predicts “little to no impact on student learning” coming from the Common Core. And then there are those such as education activist Diane Ravitch who note that the jury is out on the standards themselves as they are being rolled out without field testing, but the big winner will be textbook publishers who will be selling CCSS aligned texts and assessments at a profit to school districts across the nation.
What does Zeno think about CCSS? Ah, here we will reiterate what we have said before: we are not policy people. We leave all that to others. But like it or not, all but currently five states will be looking at the implementation of the standards. We will be watching to see their effect; how about you?