While forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), approximately two-thirds of Americans say they have never heard of them, according to recent results from the PDK/Gallup Poll. To better inform the public about the standards while also addressing the many misimpressions surrounding them, the Alliance for Excellent Education released a new report,Common Core State Standards 101. The report examines how the states originated and developed the CCSS initiative and how to ensure that the standards deliver on their promise to fundamentally improve the quality of teaching and learning in the United States.
“The Common Core State Standards have been beset by fear-mongering and scare tactics that divert attention from the positive impact the standards can have for all students,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “This new Alliance report properly recognizes the development by states of the Common Core State Standards as truly a watershed moment in American education and dispels incorrect notions surrounding the standards’ development, adoption, and implementation.”
The CCSS spell out the knowledge and skills in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics that all students should know and be able to do at each grade level from kindergarten through grade twelve. At the same time, the CCSS leave all decisions about the curriculum and teaching practices for meeting the standards to local districts and schools.
The report explains that the CCSS are a product of a twenty-year effort that began in 1989. With no federal participation, the standard-setting process reached a milestone in 2009 when forty-eight governors and state chiefs accepted the formal invitation of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to participate in an effort to develop common standards in ELA and mathematics. The report stresses that the state-led standards-writing process was transparent, with the panels writing the standards soliciting input from state officials and incorporating feedback on drafts from more than 10,000 educators and members of the public.
The report acknowledges that the federal government, through its Race to the Top program, influenced the timing of some state adoptions, but not their actual decision to adopt the standards, a finding confirmed by subsequent surveys of state officials. “States were eager to support the standards, and the federal government, which had no role in the development of the standards, was eager to back the states,” the report notes.
Focusing on political challenges and other resistance to the CCSS, the report notes that most opposition is based on “misimpressions” of the standards. And while significant media attention has focused on recent state legislation that would repeal or slow implementation of the new standards, the report points out that the “vast majority” of the approximately 150 CCSS-related bills introduced during the 2013 legislation session were related to supporting implementation.
The report also considers the costs of the CCSS, including those associated with training teachers, developing and purchasing new materials, and implementing new tests. It points to research finding that states can save money by using technology and open resources, and by taking advantage of the economies of scale and cross-state opportunities the CCSS provide.
Stressing that standards alone cannot transform teaching and learning, the report examines implementation efforts underway in several states to help teachers shift their instruction to reflect the new standards. Most prominent of these efforts is the work by two assessment consortia—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a group of nineteen states and the District of Columbia, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of twenty-five states—to develop tools to help teachers assess student progress during the year, and end-of-year assessments aligned with the new standards that will represent a significant improvement over current state tests.
Finally, the report highlights four key elements to effective implementation of the CCSS, including (1) cost-effective assessments; (2) integration with other reforms, such as new teacher evaluation systems; (3) sufficient support for teachers, including curriculum and instructional tools; and (4) sufficient support for students, including additional instruction time and resources.
“As state officials made clear when they developed and adopted the Common Core State Standards, previous academic standards varied widely between states and even school districts—a situation that was unfair to all students, and one that is especially harmful to low-income students and students of color,” said Wise. “Previous standards also expected too little from students and did not prepare them adequately for their futures. With these state-developed common standards and the assessments aligned with them, students, parents, and teachers will have a clear, consistent understanding of the skills necessary for students to succeed after high school and compete with the best and the brightest worldwide.”
Common Core State Standards 101, which includes a list of frequently asked questions and misconceptions about the CCSS, is available here.