What is the Common Core State Standards Initiative?
Posted on: 6/24/2010
A group of 31 states has banded together to compete for a federal grant to create a series of new national academic tests to replace the current patchwork system. In the current system, every state gives a different test to its students. In some states, passing the exam is a graduation requirement. The federal government has said it will award up to two grants of up to $160 million to create a testing system based on the proposed new national academic standards in reading and math.
Furthermore, Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia have committed to developing a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Alaska and Texas are the only two states that declined to join the common standards project when it began last year.
The draft standards, developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, seek to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce. The NGA Center and CCSSO have received feedback on the drafts from national organizations representing, but not limited to teachers, postsecondary education, civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
These draft standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. States will be asked to adopt the Common Core State Standards in their entirety and the core must represent at least 85% of the state's standards in English language arts and mathematics.
Widespread adoption of common standards would mark a watershed for schools, triggering consequences for curricula, textbooks, testing and teaching. Some critics say common standards amount to a thinly disguised ruse to establish national standards under federal control - an allegation that state and federal officials deny.
In most places, power to adopt standards rests with state boards of education.
Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, states are free to set standards and testing systems to rate schools. As a result, benchmarks vary widely in rigor and quality. Experts say many states eased academic requirements to enable schools to meet the law's accountability targets.
To address that issue, and enable academic performance to be judged consistently across the country, the governors and school chiefs are seeking common standards that would have all students ready for college or career after high school. President Obama has encouraged the initiative, but his administration played no role in drafting the blueprint.
The draft K-12 standards were released for public comment in March 2010. The Common State Standards for English and math were then published on June 2, 2010. They lay out a vision for what all the nation’s public school children should learn in math and English, year by year, from kindergarten to high school graduation.
“I’d say this is one of the most important events of the last several years in American education,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education who has been an advocate for national standards for nearly two decades. “Now we have the possibility that for the first time, states could come together around new standards and high school graduation requirements that are ambitious and coherent. This is a big deal.”
The adoption process will vary greatly from state to state. In some, the state schools superintendent has considerable power to move forward in as little as three months. But other states, including California, have complicated procedures, involving the state board of education and other bodies that could prolong the process for a year or more.
Educators and officials involved in the writing process pointed to what they considered to be strengths in the proposed standards, including that they are concise.
“Many states have too many expectations in their academic standards that force teachers to cover too much in a superficial way,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “We said: ‘Let’s keep these very understandable and at a number that is manageable. Let’s not put on teachers more requirements than they can deliver.’”
Another improvement over current state benchmarks, people involved in the initiative said, is that the proposed standards are what educators call vertically aligned, meaning that material students are to learn in early years builds a foundation for what is to come in the next grade.
Addressing one area of controversy about the standards, Dane Linn, who leads the work for the NGA, said that the two groups, NGA and CCSSO, do not plan to craft a national curriculum or assessments for the standards. Instead, he said, the groups might play “a catalyzing role” by helping coordinate the efforts of publishers, education organizations, school districts, or groups of teachers, for instance, to do that work.
The completion of the public draft sparked a repeat of earlier criticism from some quarters that the common standards demand skills such as critical thinking without the underlying subject-matter knowledge required to learn those skills.
Jim Stergios, the executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based research and advocacy group, said the common standards are “skills-based standards without any real content to speak of.” He said he is worried that Massachusetts’ own standards will be “dumbed down” if the state adopts the common standards.
But Richard Long, the director of government relations for the International Reading Association, commended the draft for its potential to serve as a “cornerstone” of improvement in U.S. education. Too much focus on subject-matter knowledge in standards, he said, risks turning schooling into a mechanical use of facts, rather than a process of learning how to apply key skills to varying sets of facts.
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