Common Core: Today’s Benefits, Tomorrow’s Improvements
The idea behind the Common Core State Standards originated in the 1990s, but it was only in the past decade that the initiative gained real traction, with the standards being conceptualized, developed, released, and adopted by the majority of states between 2007-2011. With the adoptions came a significant amount of pushback by educators and legislators, resulting in controversy and stigma around the new standards. Observers both inside and outside of academic fields, as well as parents of students, offered a wide range of opinions. Critics have turned this into a political issue while supporters have been vocal about the standards’ benefits. The truth is that Common Core is not perfect, but it does create a level of consistency across education. In addition, it is a malleable framework that can evolve in order to address any flaws or weaknesses.
Recent discussion about Common Core during the election season has highlighted this debate. Common Core detractors most often discuss the difficulties regarding management and implementation of Common Core. While these remain valid concerns, they can overshadow the many benefits that Common Core delivers -- and the many improvements the Common Core standards has provided to the states that have adopted them. These include:
A guiding light: One of the primary benefits of Common Core derives from the establishment of clear and consistent standards across and within states, regardless of geographic location, teacher or administrator preferences, school or district policies or politics, or any other number of variables. Each and every student is now held up to and given the opportunity to strive toward the same high standards. Of course, teachers still have the flexibility to design and customize lessons best suited to their students’ diverse needs, but the foundation--the guiding light, if you will--for consistently rich and rigorous learning experiences is in place through the existence and implementation of the Common Core standards.
A common language: To help achieve these across-the-board standards, Common Core allows educators to share a common language regarding what they want students to know and be able to do. These standards unify educators and make collaboration and community-building, whether in-person or online, easy and instant. From a practical and logistical standpoint, the shared language, content, and philosophy of the Common Core eases the transition that occurs when teachers and students move between districts and states.
A framework for education: What knowledge and skills are most critical for post-high school success? Common Core establishes a framework to answer this question clearly and fully, laying out clear and specific goals developed from a big-picture perspective. This allows educators to follow a roadmap towards achieving standards while still using their own personal touch and expertise in the classroom.
A pro-educator perspective: Common Core State Standards provide more than a series of learning objectives; they provide guidelines, benchmarks, rationales, and research so that educators can develop their own instructional materials to best support student success. This encourages educator engagement and provides educators with opportunities to both share their resources and to benefit from the ideas and resources of their peers.
A higher standard: In most cases, Common Core establishes more rigorous standards than previous state-established standards. Depending on the state, this can be either reflected in the content, the execution, or both. For example, some states previously had standards that focused on memorizing facts or executing arithmetic in a purely mechanical sense. Common Core standards are built to encourage deeper understanding, to have students ask “Why?” in addition to “What?”, and to solve problems in real-world contexts rather than simply crunch numbers.
Where Common Core Can Improve
Despite all of these benefits, Common Core is not perfect. It is a dynamic system that is evolving to address concerns from teachers and parents alike, such as:
Inconsistent implementation: Perhaps the most significant concern about Common Core lies in its implementation. While Common Core establishes numerous standards, there is no single unified stance in how to implement them. This has created anxieties among teachers, parents, and lawmakers alike, and the ripple effect is that the standards often lack teacher support. Fortunately, the educational technology space has been developing bite-sized and flexible Common Core-aligned content delivered digitally, and these types of materials have provided teachers with useful tools when designing or supplementing lessons.
Evolving assessments: The two CCSS assessment consortia (PARCC and SBAC) continue to be in flux due to leadership and management issues, and many school districts still lack the technology needed to implement the computer-based testing that has been designed to assess the Common Core standards. Many states have plans for passing scores on PARCC and SBAC tests to become graduation requirements, increasing the pressure and anxiety around this testing. Although challenges are inevitable with the implementation of any new high-stakes testing system, improvements and shifts in strategy are needed quickly in this area. Once again, edtech platforms have provided one solution by providing free and easy-to-use tools for teachers and students to create and integrate technology-enhanced items like the ones on the SBAC and PARCC exams into daily instruction, thus removing some of the uncertainty and anxiety around these new exams.
Incomplete adoption: Federal funding was tied into Common Core adoption and designed to entice states into adopting it, although not all states did. New legislation and funding opportunities may be required to motivate states to adopt or maintain their adoptions of the CCSS, as well as to fund state-level training, technology, and implementation initiatives.
The Future of Common Core
The pros and cons demonstrate how Common Core has managed to lift educational standards and requirements while dealing with significant logistical issues. The bottom line is that Common Core, like any sort of systemic change, comes with many benefits, but also challenges and “growing pains” that must be addressed and solved.
With that in mind, what is the path forward? Educators should focus on the aspects they control: the level of rigor in their content and assessments, their emphasis on higher order thinking skills and innovative problem solving, and their commitment to aligning classroom instructional and assessment materials to the standards so that students have the best chance of mastering these standards.
As mentioned above, numerous edtech platforms and organizations have provided educators with more possibilities and resources than ever before. These platforms make it easy for educators to search for and locate teaching and learning materials in order to alleviate some of the burden placed on them. While the management and legislative side continue to iron out the path ahead, teachers have the tools to help elevate Common Core and thus prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow.