School boards across California are wrestling with implementation of the “Common Core State Standards” as part of the new local control accountability plans required for state funding. So, the Common Core has recently become a hot topic in education circles.
The Common Core is an “academic blueprint” for the critical subjects of language arts and mathematics. It outlines what students are expected to learn upon completing each grade or high school course. Developed as a voluntary, nonpartisan effort in 2009-10 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is intended to strengthen academic content in the nation’s public schools. Almost all of the states have chosen to adopt it.
Some have challenged the Common Core, claiming its impact hasn’t been fully evaluated, and that states should be left on their own. The Common Core opponents point to California as an example of a state that had adopted quite rigorous academic standards in the late 1990s, although many educators had argued – to the contrary – that the California standards were “a mile wide and an inch deep,” emphasizing quantity over quality. We acknowledge that California had strong standards, but we believe the Common Core is an even better blueprint and the right path for our schools. Here’s why:
• The Common Core provides a strong, uniform, comparable foundation for all students nationwide. It’s a floor, not a ceiling.
All students deserve a strong educational foundation, and everyone wants a fair way to compare academic performance among states, districts and individual schools. The Common Core addresses both objectives. It provides a solid foundation and enables fair comparisons to be made, yet it does so without placing limits on anyone. States, districts and schools can be creative and augment the Common Core’s basic blueprint.
Also, thousands of students must move from one state to another every year. We are a very mobile society, and students should not be academically penalized for having to relocate. With the Common Core’s blueprint guiding all public schools, students who move will still have a reasonable and rightful chance to maintain high academic performance.
• The Common Core incorporates “the best of the best” from the states’ efforts and is consistent with what other nations’ schools are doing.
The Common Core development team did not start from scratch. The team was able to pick and choose from the standards individually adopted, evaluated and tested by the states. During California’s initial review in 2010, the Common Core was found to include most everything in our state’s standards, and then to have gone beyond to capture excellent content and organizational ideas from other states. In fact, with the California standards largely incorporated in the Common Core, our schools are well positioned to make a smooth and efficient transition, building upon the academic gains already achieved. In addition, the Common Core was subjected to a rigorous process of international comparison, which will greatly benefit our students as they prepare for life in a global economy.
• The Common Core focuses greater attention on career readiness and critical thinking and is consistent across grades.
The Common Core focuses attention on career readiness, not just college preparation. In addition to literature, it includes a significant amount of reading and understanding of informational texts, critical thinking and problem solving, and more listening and speaking of the type students will encounter in the workplace.
The Common Core also includes “anchor standards” that coordinate learning objectives from one grade to the next. By contrast, the California standards had many inconsistencies with some grades harder and some grades easier. The inconsistencies sometimes skewed test results. Many teachers and curriculum specialists are pleased that this shortcoming in the California standards has been addressed in the Common Core.
Having been adopted by almost all the states, the Common Core is the basis for instructional materials now in production, professional development now underway and new student assessments that should provide solid, comparable data on academic performance. With all of this in its favor, the Common Core is the right path for our students.
Jackie Levy is president of the Sacramento County Board of Education; she was principal of Cordova High School from 2002-10. Greg Geeting is also a member of the Sacramento County Board of Education; he chaired California’s Academic Content Standards Commission in 2010.