Common Core Standards, or, Are We There Yet?

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There’s long been discussion of the need for national academic standards and thanks to a yearlong effort by most of the nation’s governors and state education honchos, we’ve got some. Whether every state will adopt them, whether adoption will make any long-term difference in academic achievement and attainment, and who will write the national assessment that surely must follow on the heels of national standards remains to be seen.

The final iteration of the Common Core Standards was released today, after two months of public comment on the first draft. Part of the reasoning behind the national standards movement is that it is nearly impossible to accurately compare test scores state-by-state when each state has such varied standards. All states had to develop some sort of academic benchmarks to be in compliance with No Child Left Behind, the Act that birthed the standards-based movement and assessments such as the dreaded AIMS test in Arizona.

With one set of high standards, employers would know that high school graduates would have the same “common core” of knowledge regardless of where they attended school. Another benefit would be that students moving from state to state would be able to do so in a more academically seamless manner. And finally, perhaps most importantly, states would be less likely to undercut their own standards or dumb down their state tests to avoid the punishing arm of NCLB.

The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects are the two documents which outline the standards. They were developed by math and English experts across the nation, including William G. McCallum, a professor at the University of Arizona who headed development of the math standards. Standards for other academic areas will be developed later; experts focused on English and math because skills in those areas are the base for learning in all other areas.

Every state except Texas and Alaska was involved in developing the standards. Alaska was still headed by Sarah Palin when the Common Core Standards initiative was launched, and maybe her going-rogue attitude led to that state deciding it didn’t need improved education standards. Texas, being Texas, probably declined just to be obstinate. (Texas represents the oppositional student in every classroom. I know this because I’m married to a Texan, gave birth to four little Texans, covered K-12 education in Texas, ran a PTA in the state and lived there longer than I’ve lived just about anywhere else. Texas just likes to be difficult.)

According to the New York Times, states who adopt the Common Core Standards by Aug. 2 stand a greater chance of receiving some of the $4 billion federal grant money available in the Race to the Top competition. Arizona was rejected in the first round of proposals earlier this spring, but is resubmitting a proposal this month, according to the governor’s office.

As a soon-to-be-certified teacher, I would be thrilled if we had a national set of standards that were quickly adopted. A cursory look at the English standards document shows they are more well-written and more specific than Arizona’s English language arts standards. They allow for teacher creativity, but they also insist on certain required texts so all students, regardless of teacher, school district or state, will have a similar base knowledge. That’s certainly preferable to the crazy-quilt state-by-state standards we have now.

However, as I prepare this summer for my fall student teaching assignment, I have to admit that flipping through the 66-page English standards document at Common Core’s website also brought this thought: One more thing to study, absorb into my teaching bones, and adopt into my practice. Lucky for me, I was headed to the library anyway.

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3 thoughts on “Common Core Standards, or, Are We There Yet?

  1. What The Common Core ELA Standards Document Omits“Today’s digital natives reside in a world in which they consume, and are exposed to, more visual messages than print.  Reports from the Kaiser Family Foundation and others remind us regularly how much media young people use and consume.  It is unfortunate that the release of the final Core Standards for English Language Arts has completed ignored this fact.

    One of the most important questions in media literacy is ‘what is left out of a message’ and it is clear that what is omitted from the Common Core ELA standards released today is any reference to both visual literacy and media literacy.

    When the draft of the ELA core standards was recently released for public comment, we provided the reviewers (http://www.frankwbaker.com/petition_omission.htm) with 6 separate quotes from national educational organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of English, which reflected the importance of teaching with and about non-print texts. Yet the writers of the core standards have chosen to ignore this.

    Because each state can add 15% to this document, I call on those representatives in each of the 50 states to not only consider what is in the document, but also what is not.  There is plenty of evidence (and resources) that today’s ELA classroom must include media (and other non-print) as texts.  I can tell you that I will be working, here in South Carolina, with the State Department of Education, to ensure that both visual and media literacy are included in what our state requires teachers to teach and students to learn.”

  2. Mr. Baker:
    Thanks for writing. But are you sure your analysis is correct? Because the CC website says this: Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.
    Are you saying there is no integration? Thanks a lot for the info on the 15 percent addition – I didn’t know that was a possibility at all.

    1. Ms. Schaferhorton

      I strongly encourage you to read through the Core Curriculum specifics.  Where they say they “integrate” media and technology their use of the terms is rather static and lacks all creativity.  Upon reading page 62 in particular you will see the notion of “Visual Response” defined in terms of “tables and graphs” Please read below:
      “Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.” (pg. 62)

      in visual/performance/music based  arts education.deficitWhere has the creativity gone? I agree with Mr. Baker, if this program is to be adapted by the individual states, the remaining 15% must account for the

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