Based on its name alone, one might expect the term ‘common core’ to represent something that is essential for everyone to understand. In fact, that was exactly the idea behind the creation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the early 2000s, more commonly referred to as the “Common Core.”
The standards outline what students should know and should be able to demonstrate at the end of each grade in both math and English language arts (ELA). The goal of their creation was that all students nationwide would graduate from high school with the core knowledge needed to be successful in college, work or both. In addition, the hope was that properly educated in math and ELA, American students would become more academically competitive with their international peers.
To that aim, in 2009, state school chiefs and governors that were part of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) came together, along with numerous administrators, experts, professional organizations, teachers, parents and others to develop the Common Core State Standards.
Up to that point, many states had developed their own educational standards, including their own assessments, for these content areas. However, there was no accountability nationwide. The hope was that the Common Core would help raise academic achievement, standardize essential learning across the country and improve assessment methods.
It should be noted that while the Common Core specifies what students should master at each grade level, individual states and school districts are responsible for developing their own curriculum based on those standards. In other words, the Common Core does not prescribe a plan for covering content, nor does it provide lesson plans to teach the concepts.
The Common Core effect experienced initial success, with 46 states passing laws partially or fully adopting the standards in their school systems. Texas was one of the four states that never adopted the standards, and is joined in that category by Virginia, Alaska and Nebraska.
Implementation of the Common Core quickly became challenging, and Arizona, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina withdrew their support. In addition, at least 16 other states have begun or have passed legislation to repeal the Common Core standards.
If the goal of the Common Core was to strengthen the quality of education nationwide (surely something everyone could get behind), what went wrong? How did so many states sour on the idea of adopting and implementing the standards? In the end, there were several different objections raised by parents, educators, administrators and state government representatives.
Some of the most frequently voiced concerns about the Common Core include:
- Governmental overreach. Many people were/are concerned that the adoption of the Common Core might give too much power to the federal government.
- Dulls learning. Because so much emphasis is put on the acquisition of skills, the concern is that the joy of learning (which comes from more varied learning experiences) would be diminished.
- Differentiation. Some are concerned that, with the number of skills and standards set forth, those students who need to learn at a different pace or in a different way would find it difficult to receive the type of education they need. This includes those students who might fall under the special education umbrella.
- Assessment concerns. The Common Core requires new assessments to measure student performance. New tests mean more expense and, in many cases, more rigor, causing some students’ scores to plummet.
- Teaching to the test. Educators are increasingly being held accountable for their students’ test results and some believe that the Common Core assessments contribute to this. Teachers feel the pressure to drill students on skills that might appear on the assessments instead of teaching.
- Discrimination. Students in poor school districts tend to have a higher proportion of minority groups and students with a first language other than English. These districts often don’t have access to the same resources or learning experiences. Yet, the assessments cover the same standards. This has the potential to penalize these students for factors outside of their control.
Texas, which uses its own set of standards, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), will certainly not be adopting the national standards. And, at this point, with as much opposition as the initiative has received, unless there is a significant shift in political will, resolution of assessment concerns, and general funding support, the Common Core as it was originally envisioned is unlikely to succeed.
Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.