What is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards are a set of educational milestones students should achieve by the end of each grade level. However, what was designed to be a straightforward set of guidelines has been the subject of controversy and has undergone a number of changes over the past several years. It’s no wonder there is such confusion and misunderstanding about the subject. Let’s take a look at what these standards are and what they mean for the nation’s students.

Overview of State Standards

Despite what many believe, these guidelines were never set by the federal government. In fact, as the name implies, the initiative was overseen by state government and educational leaders. Standards in the subjects of English/Language Arts and Math are laid out to describe the skill set students should possess at each grade level.

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It was in 2009 that the idea for a cohesive set of expectations in education began to form and take shape. At a Chicago summit, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers began the process to gather state support through the formation of work groups of experts such as professors, educational association leaders and heads of testing groups. Eventually, actual teachers were added to the work groups, but only after pressure by unions. State educational departments gave input as the standards were drafted.

Motivations for Setting the Standards

Throughout the 1990s there was a trend in which states created their own individual set of educational guidelines. Unfortunately, this led to to a great deal of discrepancy among the school performance throughout the country. College and university personnel were discovering that a growing number of students were arriving ill-prepared in English and math related subjects. In addition, employers were also noting a lack of basic educational competencies among their applicants. Thus, the Common Core movement began its emergence.

State Standards and Federal Law

The goals laid out in the CC State Standards were agreed upon by state leaders. They cannot be amended or revoked by the federal government. A regulation known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not allow federal interference in standards, curriculum or instruction within states’ districts or individual schools. Under the No Child Left Behind act, the U.S. Department of Education encourages states to adopt CC standards, but it is not required and not all states have done so. Unlike past systems in which the federal government could punish schools that did not meet certain testing performance requirements, there are now a wider set of metrics for determining the whether students are being provided adequate education. These include suspension and expulsion rates, college readiness, graduation rates and school climate, among others. The motivation behind widening the accountability measures is to improve the likelihood that schools are being assessed fairly.

The education system in the United States has gone through many changes over time. It is important that regular assessment take place and that schools are held accountable for the education they provide. It is also crucial that the standards to which districts are behind held be examined, as well. Common Core State Standards were introduced in an attempt to fix issues with the previous system and to facilitate a set of common educational expectations across the country.