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.