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Common Core at 5: Just Beginning Its Journey

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June 05, 2015 01:32 pm


As any parent knows, a child’s fifth birthday is a major milestone. At five, a child enters kindergarten, taking a big step from preschool into the world of school. It’s a leap into a lifetime of learning and a bright future.

The Common Core State Standards turned five years old this week. They were unveiled June 2, 2010 at a ceremony at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia. At the time, participants were enthusiastic about the standards but recognized that challenges lay ahead. As Eric Smith, then the Commissioner of Education in Florida, put it: “It is now up to the states to adopt the standards and carry on the hard work of the educators and community leaders that worked to develop them.”

It’s fair to say that the leaders who gathered that day in Georgia…er, underestimated the challenges. The standards were attacked by members of the tea party and others (falsely) as federal intrusion into local decisions about education, and blamed (equally falsely) by parents and some educators for spawning incomprehensible math problems and killing literature. At the same time, many states struggled with implementation and teachers worried (rightly) that they would be held accountable for students’ performance on the standards when they had been inadequately prepared to teach them.

Five years on, where are the standards? Despite the heated rhetoric, only three states revoked their adoptions of the standards, and one of them (Indiana) replaced them with standards that look a lot like the Common Core. Other states made some revisions and changed the name but kept the standards in place. So the standards remain in force in forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense schools.

And, after the beating they have taken, the standards also remain popular. As my colleague Kristen Loschert pointed out, Americans overwhelmingly support the idea of common standards and the kind of learning the standards call for, even if they object to the name “Common Core.”

Most importantly, teachers have been working diligently, mostly under the radar, to transform their instruction and make the standards real. For example, teachers in Kentucky and other states have been using a tool to help develop lessons tied to the Common Core, and have found that they are changing their teaching in ways that are helping students learn more.

This year, the kindergarten year, the standards face their biggest test. All states have put in place new assessments to measure student performance against the standards. More than half the states have implemented tests developed by consortia (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) that were explicitly designed to align to the Common Core. The tests have been controversial, and the results are likely to show that fewer students are considered “proficient” than were considered “proficient” under previous state tests. (That’s not because students are falling behind; it’s because the tests measure different things and the definition of “proficient” differs.)

So the hard work that Eric Smith suggested was necessary in 2010 still remains. But as with parents who wistfully send their child off to kindergarten, the responsibility does not end. States must continue to develop and adopt high-quality instructional materials and prepare teachers effectively. They must put in place strategies for students who have been low-performing and who have not been exposed to the kind of instruction the standards call for. And they must continue to engage the public to ensure that they continue to support the learning the standards expect.

None of this will be easy—but neither is raising a child. At five, the Common Core State Standards have a long way to go.

Robert Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education.



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