Many school district educators are now asked challenging questions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Much political debate centers on whether the CCSS should be supported or discarded. Perhaps some of the debate is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what the CCSS actually are. One school district representative recently asked, “What do we say to folks who challenge what we are doing because they don’t like the CCSS?” Here are some suggestions.
- Explain what the CCSS are. The idea that the CCSS are teaching strategies or an instructional framework is pervasive and incorrect. They are actually a set of subject area goals that guide what students should know and be able to do. Most states in the US have had similar standards since the mid-1980s, typically derived from various subject area organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Science Teachers Association. That practice made each state’s standards similar but not exactly the same. The CCSS are different in two ways: (1) while they are also based on the expertise of subject area organizations, they were adopted by most states without much – if any – modification, and (2) they are more academically challenging than earlier standards. The CCSS replace former standards within the states that adopted them.
- Explain the impetus behind the CCSS. The belief that the CCSS were written by federal bureaucrats and imposed on state education departments is also pervasive and incorrect. The Common Core State Standards were jointly developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (state education superintendents or commissioners) and the National Governors Association. Each state operated independently to finance the local adoption and implementation of the standards, and agreed that the accountability for adequately educating all American students required academic goals that made sense and could be aligned to each school district’s curriculum. Although adoption of the CCSS puts states in a better position to compete for federal education dollars, that action came after the development and voluntary adoption of the CCSS by each participating state.
- Provide a copy of the CCSS for review and discussion. Some believe the CCSS expect students to read certain materials, challenge specific social values, and believe in a particular dogma. None of those assumptions is true. A school official who recently faced that challenge gave the critic a copy of the CCSS, and asked specifically what was objectionable. The critic could find nothing to complain about. Fear of the unknown is a big factor, and many critics feel they are not allowed to have access to the CCSS documents. So, it’s important to make the link to the documents available, and to provide hard copies of the standards for parents and patrons who do not use the Internet. When asked specifically to locate objectionable standards, the probable response is, “These are fine.”
Those associated with the Curriculum Leadership Institute have worked with school district partners since the early 1990s to write curriculum, instruction, and assessments that align with relevant state and national standards. The CCSS have not changed that approach or our mission. The CCSS, like previous standards, stipulate knowledge to be learned and student performances that are necessary to ensure quality learning. The only difference is that those standards are more alike and, in most cases, more rigorous in helping students achieve a higher level of success as they prepare for their place in a highly mobile and interactive society.