Common Core…What Is It?


One of today’s buzz words in education is Common Core. The simple question many parents are asking teachers is ‘what is Common Core?’. The answer they are often receiving is anything but clear and it varies from who you ask. What I’ll try to do here is give you a bit of background information and direct you to some resources that will help you asa parent or student make sense of this new education initiative. We may poke a bit of criticism at the standards, but ultimately believe that they are beneficial to parents and students and are long overdue.

Formally known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one site called the Common Core State Standards Initiative which is devoted to the standards states:

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.

Author Note: To help confuse us parents the standards are also called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). Not sure why they didn’t use CCLS for Common Core Learning Standards or something that has education in it but I guess that is why we pay these education administrators and experts the big bucks.

Currently 45 States of the USA and 3 territories have adopted the standards. The standard started in 2009 when the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the coordinators of the initiative, convened a group of leading experts to develop K-12 standards for math and English language arts which they did in 2010. The main objectives of the CCSS’s are:

  1. Provide consistent standards from State to State. This means if you have to move to another state your child will be learning the same material in a similar way.
  2. Standards will be relevant to the real world. The standards reflect the knowledge and skills that students will need to transition and succeed in college and/or career. Education will focus on problem solving and critical thinking skills, not solely on knowledge of particular facts that generally have little relationship to success later in life (unless you play Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit).
  3. Standards will be clear. Hummm…I think we’ll have to wait and see if this actually occurs because it is pretty muddy right now.
  4. Aims to avoid additional testing. The mission is to ‘replace’ existing tests with more ‘standardized’ and norm based testing.
  5. Clearer standards will benefit parents, teachers and students. The idea for parents here is that with clear objectives for an academic year and/or subject they will be able to help their child more in their education.
  6. Standards will incorporate the best and highest of the current state standards. Basically states with high standards will not be required to ‘lower’ their standards in order to “meet in the middle” with states that seemingly had lower standards. States must enact at least 85% of the standards and do so by 2015.

In my state (New York State) the Board of Regents on January 10th, 2011, approved the recommended additions to the Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy and Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics, plus a new set of Prekindergarten Standards. Information about the P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy is available on the EngageNY website at http://engageny.org/common-core/ but most of this information is for teachers, principles and school administrators so it is not the easiest to follow even for a Masters student like myself. For us ‘non-educators’ the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has put out some easier to understand material focused on parents. These four-page booklets titled “Four-page Parents Guide for Success” are broken it down by grades from Kindergarten to 8th grade and then one each for High School English and Math. I find the guides very informative and useful for me to help my daughter be successful in Kindergarten. The booklets are available at http://www.pta.org/5307.htm.

The Common Core Learning Standards are still evolving and will change as time goes on. There is a direct link of these Common Core Learning Standards to the Federal sponsored Race to the Top competitive grants announced on July 24, 2009. To be eligible for the grant, states had to adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that help to prepare students for success in college and the work place.  This means that in order for a state to be eligible for these grants, the states that applied had to adopt the Common Core State Standards or a similar career and college readiness curriculum. How the continued recession will impact the availability of these federal funds is still in question, but the bottom line is that there has been a substantial change in education and you will see it…like it or not. We think the change will be beneficial for our children. We hope it will be for yours!

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