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Understanding Common Core and the Debate Surrounding It

Understanding Common Core and the Debate Surrounding It

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This post is meant to illuminate the debate around Common Core and its implementation. Add to it by sharing your perspective in the comments.

The world of American politics has never been afraid of intruding into the education system, but the debate about Common Core is heating up and making for some strange political bedfellows. Voices on the right fear losing local control, while some on the left are unhappy with the amount of testing involved. Common Core advocates say the new standards will improve student readiness and global competitiveness..

At the same time, a PDK/Gallup poll demonstrated that most Americans either don't know about the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or understand it.

What does it all mean and how will CCSS impact our classrooms? I hope to help answer these questions by pointing to key resources that explain the debate, clear up the persistent myths, and provide an opportunity for teachers, parents, and administrator to share their experiences implementing the new standards.

First the resources:

Now it's your turn. What's it been like implementing Common Core where you are? How are the students responding? Is there something you need that you're not getting? Share your experiences with us.

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Patricia Lounibos's picture
Patricia Lounibos
Sixth Grade Teacher from Petaluma, California

I want to read the articles and I will but I also want to get some dialog going. We are rolling out CCSS for Math this year and it's been very challenging. Our district's math committee came up with units that incorporate the new standards with our current curriculum sprinkled with resources all over the internet. I'm winging it and I know other teachers who are just staying with the old way because the units are either not fleshed out enough for the grade level or because it's too overwhelming for them.

I'm also part of a team of teachers in the district that are learning about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

What does CCSS and NGSS mean to me? Initially, it means that I can teach with curriculum that encourages students to develop stronger literacy skills. I'm doing much more close reading this year and I'm structuring more discourse. We are going deeper with topics rather than glazing over the surface. I'm also infusing more technology instruction into my classroom.

I'm excited about being able to develop curriculum that engages minds and asks students to explain their reasoning. I like what I know so far. I'll be back later after I do my homework (read the articles).

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

We had a discussion about this at our monthly Professional Development meeting. Our District is rolling out Common Core and setting up inservices around Common Core, both for weekly meetings as well as full inservice days. But there was some "information" presented by a local group about Common Core as a political booth, in the school which is a polling place, during the local election this week. The information was less than accurate and not the full story, it's safe to say, and more propaganda driven.

As a result, we're discussing ways to have some community information sessions as soon as possible, so rumor does not outstrip reality. Common Core has some opponents who see it as a federal takeover of education, and don't understand that it's not a curriculum, but instead standards to be met to ensure career and college readiness.

I think it's on all of us- parents, educators, advocates- to help make sure that facts triumph fiction, even when the facts are saying things like "We have to work to revamp the way we teach some things, because we need to ask kids to think more in depth about subjects, and write more about them, than we have asked them to in the past. That means we have to also work harder by grading essays versus scantron sheets, and it means change for everyone."

In some ways, being honest about what the Core asks us to do means admitting that what we have been doing hasn't always been good enough, and that makes everyone uncomfortable.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

As part of our course offerings for World Language Teachers, we have been helping our teacher colleagues see how we support our students meet the expectations of the CCSS with strategies we can readily implement in our second language classes. We do not have students who can communicate as fluently in the languages we teach as in their won language, naturally, however, we offer much by way of support to our colleagues, especially in ELA, in meeting the high level of rigor expected by the CCSS.

One thing we do is examine authentic texts in the target language. As we bring both fiction and non-fiction to the classroom, we need to help our students learn to read closely with strategies which will enable them to think critically as they engage with the text. Students can readily learn to pick out cognates, guess at meaning with context clues, learn to infer and to make intelligent, informed guessed, based on context clues. Often, it is in the second language classroom where students acquire these kinds of skills at higher levels. World Language Teachers, we have much to offer our to help our students be successful with the upcoming CCSS assessments!

Other great resources we have discovered along the way include:


Terry Heick's blog

Plus, see our own collection of resources at the East Bay WL Project:

Best wishes,


Chris Van Arsdale's picture

Nothing could be more harmful to my students than the concept of a standards based education. Call it Common Core, call it something else, it is all the same. I am politically middle-of-the-road, and I find it appalling that anyone believes that not only must every student learn the same things at the same time, but that all learning must be both linear and progressive.

I love the whole concept of "college and career ready", too. Sounds great to the general public, doesn't it? There is no such thing as standards that will properly prepare one student to be a physicist and another student to be a construction worker.

The fact of the matter is my students have 17 days of mandated assessments. How many days of prep go into that? It is now considered good teaching to give pre-tests that are remarkably similar to the summative assessments. In teaching to standards we are making excellent widget makers. Ask China, they've used standards based education for 2,000 years. Is this really what we aspire to?

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Chris!
Have you taken a good look at the standards? Here's an example from the 6-8 grade science standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

To me, this is not further industrializing education, but looking to make sure that kids are learning skill sets they need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers rather than just recognizing the right answer from a field of wrong ones in a multiple choice test. I think these are "standards" that work for college students or for construction workers as you put it, because thinking and problem solving skills, presentation skills and analytical thinking are skills you need in all aspects of life. If putting them down in writing as things we expect kids to be able to do, regardless of what material you teach in the curriculum, at certain grade levels- well, I am totally behind that. I think NCLB tended to lead to rather low bar, multiple choice, surface thinking, and I think we're trying to move beyond that, as kids are hitting college now with less readiness than before, victims of a decade of the testing protocols.

I understand your frustration, but I think if you really look a the standards, there's not a lot in there that doesn't really just mean good, high quality teaching and requiring high quality thinking from kids as well.

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

In our district, one of the top 3 in the state, fear is the driving engine behind CCSS. In the past we have accelerated students, especially in math due to its sequential nature, when they demonstrate mastery of 80%+ of the curriculum. With the brakes firmly applied, we now have: Parent furious that their children are no longer allowed to accelerate (and get concurrent college-high school credit in 11th and 12th grades by attending the university), Teachers who don't know what to do with kids who may, in middle school, score above the average of graduating seniors in the SAT or ACT through Talent Searches, and Students who are wondering what they did wrong to earn such punishment. Note to policy makers who haven't set foot in a classroom for decades, not everyone is a struggling student.

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