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Robert Rothman: The ins and outs of Common Core State Standards

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November 05, 2012 04:36 pm


“Humble standards lead to great innovations,” Bob Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance, says of the new common core state standards, adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Writing in Kappan Magazine, Rothman’s piece, “Laying a common foundation for success” details the history, challenges, and future of the common core state standards (CCSS). He defines the English language arts and mathematics standards as the “knowledge and skills all students are expected to acquire in order to be prepared for college and careers by the time they graduate from high school.”

Going back to the 1990s, many leaders – both local and in federal government, saw a need for a common set of national education standards. The notion faced incredible backlash, as education is a domain of the states.

In its original conception, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reinforced the view that standards should be set at the state level. But ironically, that 2002 law helped revive the idea of common standards across states.

“The No Child Left Behind act made variations in state standards conspicuous,” Rothman writes. National assessments, compared to individual state assessments, showed wide gaps in educational attainment across states.

Enter CCSS. In a courageous move that combined state-led efforts with a need for national standards, state governors and chief state school officers launched an effort in 2009 to create a set of shared common standards. Their mantra was and remains, “fewer, higher, clearer.” The rest, as they say, is history. Or, at the least, is detailed in Rothman’s piece.

The CCSS are currently being implemented in many states. Two state consortia, or groups, are working to devise assessments, or tests, aligned to the new, higher standards. Discussion is underway in individual schools and districts for how to broaden teacher support, as well as provide tools and interventions to make sure that lower-performing students can meet the new standards.

The CCSS should not be confused with curriculum; they are a set of shared goals and expectations for students to meet to prepare them for college and workplace success. The standards stress complexity in texts – making sure that students can read and comprehend informational materials; and reasoning – forming evidence-based claims will be essential in both reading and mathematics.

The biggest challenge today facing the CCSS is financial. In a time of austerity, it’s hard to imagine from where the funds to align instructional materials and assessments, along with provide professional development for educators will come. Rothman suggests that technology may be a solution to the financial woes facing CCSS. With technology, teacher training, along with editing materials for instruction, can be done online – at a much lower cost than traditional means.

“In the end, the common nature of the Common Core State Standards is likely to be their most important contribution,” Rothman says. “The result, if sustained, will be a major advance for equal opportunity.”

Read Rothman’s paper at


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