Since the early 1990s, states began developing educational learning standards for grades 3-12. The standards described either a skill or understanding in which every student in each grade should be proficient.
The definition of proficiency, however, was inconsistent among states. In 2009, governors and state commissioners of education from 49 states, the District of Columbia and two United States territories met to create common goals and determine what constituted proficiency in each goal across state lines. No matter where students lived, they would be expected to meet the same level of competency for each academic standard. This state-led initiative developed what has become known as “Common Core State Standards.”
How the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Were Developed
In order to prepare students to compete in the global market and prepare for workforce training programs, state leaders began development of the CCSS by referring to strong state standards already in existence. With the collaboration of experienced teachers, content area experts and other “leading thinkers,” as well as feedback from the public, the development team set a goal to create standards in the areas of English language arts (ELA) and mathematics that “as a whole must be essential, rigorous, clear and specific, coherent and internationally benchmarked.”
In November 2007, state chiefs first considered developing the standards. Educators, experts and state leaders drafted standards and requested review from feedback groups consisting of teachers, university professors and department heads, politicians, and other qualified professionals. The CCSS developers made revisions and corrections based on the feedback they received. Soon after, a draft of the college- and career-ready standards were released to the public and then again to the state agencies for comment.
By June 2010, the CCSS were released to the states for review and ratification. As of 2018, 42 states, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Washington D.C., Guam, the Norther Mariana Islands and the U. S. Virgin Islands implemented the CCSS in classroom planning and instruction. Seven states and Puerto Rico do not use the CCSS. The State of Minnesota has adopted only the ELA standards.
The Pros of the CCSS
The debate about the CCSS continues. There are communities of educators, educational leaders and teachers who hold that common standards will make a positive difference in academic progress.
One of the primary goals of the CCSS development team was to ensure consistency of academic expectations for all students across the United States. When students move from one state to another, they will be able to pick up at the new school where they left off at the old school.
Another core value of the CCSS involves developing rigor in the classroom. By promoting the use of problem-solving skills and reasoning, teachers enable students to better prepare not only for higher education but also for work success.
The CCSS are benchmarked by international standards and will compare favorably to standards of other countries. This will improve the educational ranking of the United States in the global scene.
Financially, states will save money. Test development, scoring and reporting can be used by multiple states, making it unnecessary to invest in individual tests.
The standards also improve national professional development. Sharon Look, curriculum coordinator at Pa’ia Elementary School in Hawaii, summed up her feelings about the positive impact of the Common Core, “It’s amazing to see students building the skills that we clearly need as adults, but we are starting them much younger.”
The Cons of the CCSS
While the CCSS has provided consistency in standards across state lines as intended, some educators and education professionals do not believe the initiative is living up to its hype. In fact, they believe that, in some ways, the Common Core State Standards are a negative influence on our students.
At the outset, educators were presented with the Common Core and expected to adjust teaching practices and direct instruction in a short amount of time. The adjustment was difficult for both teachers and students.
Although the CCSS presented an entirely new way of teaching and learning, students were expected to respond immediately and perform up to expectations on the high-stakes tests developed specifically for the Common Core. Also, the standards are not specific, forcing states to rework them into more effective guidelines.
Some educators are concerned that the new standards do not consider the developmental level of children. Pre-school and primary students are being asked to perform at inappropriate academic levels.
According to Peter Gray, Ph.D., of Psychology Today, “Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.” The CCSS does not make appropriate accommodations for students with special needs.
Additionally, despite the claim that teachers were involved in the process of developing the CCSS, teachers felt overlooked. Jose Vilson, an eighth-grade math teacher in New York City, described his feelings this way:
It (the CCSS development) was very top-down and ultimately that caused some of the resistance, even from people who would otherwise be allies to this work. Some of us have always wanted a national curriculum so wherever people went, especially as students, they would still be learning similar material to where they were before.
But you need to have the teachers’ voice at the heart of this work, along with students and parents and community stakeholders. It can’t be driven by some aloof Ivory Tower so-and-sos, who come in and tell us what to do.
Mixed Reviews of the CCSS
The development and implementation of the new standards have also been met with mixed reviews. While some teachers appreciate the emphasis on problem-solving and cross-content transfer of information and skills, they are concerned about the rapid introduction and rollout.
Curriculum coordinator Sharon Look stated, “I think we need to set appropriate expectations. While we would love to have kids there tomorrow, and that is the ultimate goal, it might not happen immediately.”
In addition, Massachusetts middle-school literacy coach Karen Babbitt feels that the problem is assessment not standards. “I think the biggest issue that causes the political hullabaloo about the Common Core is that people think that testing mechanisms are the Common Core. I think people are upset about the PARCC test and the Smarter Balanced test. They are not the Common Core.”
Finally, when all levels of the standards were implemented at once, giving teachers no time to process the information or rebuild their instructional practices, both educators and students felt overwhelmed. If the information about the new standards had been available to teachers well in advance, and if the standards themselves had been rolled out gradually, beginning at the primary grades, the switch would have been more tolerable.
The future of the Common Core State Standards is unknown, especially given their controversial development and implementation. Like every other aspect of education, the CCSS will face the ebb and flow of both political and educational positions. However, as an elementary teacher, team leader, resource teacher or researcher, you’ll be responsible for preparing students for whatever future they choose — academic or workforce.
A Master of Education in Elementary Education degree from Mississippi College will provide you with the training and materials you will need to face the future of education, no matter the standards or goals.
Learn more about the Mississippi College online Master of Education in Elementary Education program.