This piece was originally written in December of 2011.
The adoption of Common Core Standards has been a topic of issue with the introduction of Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RttT) educational funding initiative. Of course, there are many other issues involved, but this issue has some educators scratching their collective heads. While I believe the standards movement needs to be reinvented in ways that I’m not sure I fully understand, the current efforts are clearly an attempt to reform the American education system.
The essential idea behind the creation of Common Core Standards is to make standards uniform across the country. Given that we have 50 states in our nation, historically, each state was required to develop content standards for each content area taught in public school systems within each state. While it is important that educators (and students) identify the specific content knowledge and skills necessary for proficiency/mastery of each content area, the leading driver of this “standards movement” was and has always been driven by federal mandates tied to federal funds. As an extension of that movement, the collective wisdom of current educational policy-makers is that a “common” set of content standards would bring equality and consistency to each state. And, RttT requires universal adoption of these common standards for the opportunity to apply for additional federal funding.
There is certainly nothing wrong with having common standards in a common country. Some may argue that standards could or even should be unique as they reflect the varying cultural diversity of our country. And while that may have some merit in specific content areas (art, music, history, etc.) that is unlikely to be the case for the four primary academic areas (LA. MA, SS, SC.) The first Common Core Standards to be implemented are Math and English-Language Arts. One would be hard pressed to argue against having a uniform standard in these content areas. One might argue that these standards could be too difficult for some groups, or too easy for other groups. However, this is likely unrelated to geographic location or cultural group as much as it is traditional/historical precedent of what states or parochial districts determined to be appropriate content standards for their populations. In the 21st century, this thinking must be changed.
Common Core Standards must focus on objective academic content. Policy-makers should be careful to develop and implement core standards in consideration of local populations. Perry (2009) reminded us of five key concepts to consider when developing common standards. They are: Diversity, Participation, Cohesion, Choice, and Equality. Common standards should reflect achievable academic criterion for all students. Standards should be accessible by all students regardless of cultural background; they should be developed by a diverse group that is reflective of the population; they should connect logically; they should allow for choice in how proficiency is demonstrated; and they should support educational equality for all students (Perry, 2009).
The purpose of Common Core Standards is to produce students with the necessary academic abilities to be successful in college. Easley, II (2011) presented compelling information that standards themselves are much less a factor of student success/achievement than are other factors. He states:
Data from this study seem to support the notion that the highly politicized achievement gap is exacerbated by a parallel gap in access to the vital social and economic resources needed to advance a large-scale and sustainable jump in academic attainment among racial minority and low income student populations (Easley II, p. 232.)
He suggested that content standards have much less of an impact on student success than do quality curricular resources and both the presence and consistency of student instruction by experienced teachers. Thus, we should acknowledge that although common core standards may level the field in terms of criterion consistency across state lines, they do not guarantee the elimination of achievement gaps nor do they promise that schools will automatically improve after their adoption.
The present educational policy-makers brought forth a common core curriculum to help ensure that every student has the skills needed to be successful as they begin a career or enter college. They believe that by reforming the standards movement to include the addition of uniform content standards, that schools, educators, and parents will “know what they need to do to help them” achieve those standards and attain future success (NEA, Common Core Standards). This goal, as in other reform initiatives, supports the aim to improve schools and instructional practices in ways that help produce students who are academically prepared for higher education or immediate employment. While a reform of this measure may provide some clarity to content standards in a geo-political sense, it is not a radical change or transformation of what schools teach or how they teach it.
Easley II, J. (2011). What do students know anyway? High school graduates’ examination of standards and the responses of expert educators for educational equity. Improving Schools 14. 223-238. DOI: 10.1177/1365480211422285
National Education Association (2011). Common core state standards. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/46653.htm
Perry, L. (2009). Conceptualizing education policy in democratic societies. Educational Policy 23. 423-450. DOI: 10.1177/0895904807310032