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Alliance Senior Fellow Robert Rothman Highlights Common Core Standards in Washington Monthly

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May 10, 2012 03:27 pm


In a Special Report on Education for Washington Monthly, Robert Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education, discusses the unification of American educational standards under the umbrella of the Common Core State Standards.

In Transcontinental Education, Rothman provides readers with a short lesson on American history by cleverly aligning the progression of Common Core State Standards to the American railroad system. Rothman explains how railroads initially started as locally run businesses with each region of the country building separate lines that connected towns to transport goods.

The problem arose in that many of these train lines had varying widths between tracks, ranging from 4 to 6 feet. These variations actually hindered the further development of a transcontinental railway system because train lines with varied widths couldn’t be connected. Seeking to capitalize on the intercontinental railroads during the Civil War, then President Abraham Lincoln came to the rescue, instituting a uniform track width of 4 feet eight and a half inches. The uniform standard made it possible for railroads across the country to be connected, expanding economic growth for the nation.

Rothman alludes to a similar transformation taking place within the American elementary and secondary educational system with the Common Core State Standards. Already adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, the Common Core sets out common expectations of the knowledge and skills in English language arts and mathematics all students should have to ensure college and career readiness by the time they graduate from high school. Before, states widely varied in their expectations of students, making it difficult for students to matriculate after moving from one state to another, and placing educational disadvantages for students who live in states with requirements that are lower than those of other regions. This adoption of the Common Core also facilitates innovation in classroom methodology and technology, developments that ultimately benefit learners and the next generation of productive global citizens.

The Common Core State Standards face a number of political and financial challenges, however. Despite the individual adoption by each state, some critics argue that the standards are a federally imposed mandate that infringes upon states’ rights. Additionally, the initial costs associated with the implementation of the Common Core, especially during tough economic times, leave many critics to argue against the feasibility of implementing the standards. Rothman, the author of Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the ext Chapter in American Education (Harvard Education Press, 2011) provides sound counterpoints that reinforce the need to institute uniform standards of achievement for American students. As bridging the track-width divide in the railroad system ignited an economic boost for the nation during the Civil War, so to will bridging the gap between varying state educational standards boost the potential success for the nation’s next generation.

The Washington Monthly special report was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which supports the Alliance’s work in advancing deeper learning. The report also includes an article by Susan Headden on the assessments currently being developed by two consortia of states to measure student performance against the Common Core State Standards, and one by Bill Tucker on the future of assessment .


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