Common Core State Standards: Helping or Hurting K-12 Education?

If you’re a K-12 educator, you've likely been discussing the Common Core State Standards with your school administration and what it will mean to you as a teacher and to your students.

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “these standards have the capacity to change education in the best of ways – setting loose the creativity and innovation of educators at the local level, raising the bar for students, strengthening our economy and building a clearer path to the middle class.”

However, not everyone shares our Secretary of Education’s point of view. There have been mixed feelings about the Common Core State Standards since they were introduced in 2007.

Some feel that the implementation of such standards is a federal takeover of schools (even though the federal government did not create them), while others feel that having more rigorous, high-quality learning standards evens the playing field among states and will benefit our students and our country long term.

What They Are

Figure 1 Image from www.corestandards.org Figure 1 Image from www.corestandards.org

The Common Core State Standards is not a federally mandated program. In 2007, a group of governors and state education leaders created the Common Core Standards “to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share.” The standards were designed in part due to the declining rank of America in education and in college completion rates. The Common Core strives to prepare students to be college and career ready so the U.S. can compete in a global economy.

Today, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity voluntarily adopted these standards; however, many states have not fully implemented them. For example, Pennsylvania adopted the standards July 2, 2010, but they are not expected to fully implement them until school year 2013-2014.

According to Duncan, “When these standards are fully implemented, a student who graduates from a high school in any one of these states – who is performing at standard – will be ready to attend and succeed in his or her state university without remedial education. Historically, in far too many communities, more than half of those who actually graduated high school needed remedial help in college.”

The Impact on Teachers

The Common Core State Standards are just that – standards. In other words, this is what students should academically know by a certain age. Common Core is not a change to curriculum, which is what teachers teach to help students meet academic standards. By law, the federal government is prohibited from creating or mandating curricula.

Dr. Renee Aitken, director of assessment for the School of Education at NCU, explains, “Teachers are encouraged to be more creative in reaching the standards. For K-12 teachers, the Common Core Standards will require evaluations, but each state is responsible for making up the evaluation points.”

According to corestandards.org, “Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms.”

The Impact on Students

With Common Core, students will be required to demonstrate more critical thinking skills so this may change how and what they are learning. The goal is to fully prepare students  for college and a career in today’s environment as more jobs require a deeper level of thinking and comprehension.

“Common Core is a touchy subject for some diverse groups – parents, teacher educators, teachers, administrators, government officials, and concerned citizens,” said Aitken. “It is very early in the adoption process to know if implementing it is a good or a bad thing.”

Are you a K-12 teacher, parent or administrator? If so, we’d love to know what you think about the Common Core State Standards in our comments section below.