Who, What, Why of Common Core

Posted by Science Explored on October 29, 2013

The Lone Star State has a history of doing things differently.  Our state’s maverick spirit is indeed a source of pride for many Texans.  An education-related example of this is the adoption of the TEKS in place of the Common Core standards.  Though there is no motion at this time to bring the Common Core standards to Texas, the movement itself is fascinating.  Explore with us as we drill down into what exactly the Common Core is, how the standards came about, and how they could one day impact Texas.

More than a century ago, the seeds of the Common Core were sowed by a group of ten men in the hallways of Columbia University.  The group had convened in 1893 to discuss what constituted a good high school education.  Needless to say, the debate went on much longer than anticipated. Generations have argued about whether standards are too easy, too broad, excessively broad, or far too narrow for American students.  Consensus long remained impossible.  Lack of consensus contributed to the statistic that one in five high school graduates is underprepared for four-year college resulting in the need for a semester or more in remedial studies.  This delays their futures and inflates their debt, and has a simple reason:  a high school diploma in one state is not equivalent to that in another and colleges know it.

The year 2009 as dramatic in regards to changing education standards.  Kentucky state legislature penned a bill to replace the state’s standards with more rigorous ones aligned to international norms.  Simultaneously, the National Governor’s Association and Chief State School Officers were creating their own wireframe for a set of national standards.  As the word got out of the new standards, state legislators, employers, professors, teachers, and researchers were assembled to concrete them.  Rather than basing the standards on what felt right as the 1893 assembly had done, the new standards taking shape were based on what employers and universities sought in terms of successful employees and students.  Thus the Common Core began to take shape and at its center was a notion to learn with depth rather than breadth.

Design is one thing, but implementation is a wholly different one.  The transition for teachers from well-understood state standards to complex, highly rigorous Common Core standards was and continues to be challenging.  Despite the turbulent change, many teachers have reported that they are able to better help struggling students because the pace of teaching has become less frenetic; more time can be spent to deeply understand each concept rather than just develop a “working knowledge” of it.  Unsurprisingly, as an early pioneer of Common Core, Kentucky has already seen some powerful results:  high school graduation rate has increased to 86% statewide, testing data shows that students are performing increasingly better, and, most remarkably, the number of students deemed college and career ready has increased by 20% to 54% after Common Core.

Despite the apparent success of Common Core, many remain frustrated.  There is a latent sensation that these new standards were imposed rather than agreed upon.  This past April, the Next Generation Science Standards, a parallel of Common Core for science, were released.  The backlash on Common Core has likely slowed the progress of NGSS adoption, as only six states have endorsed them thus far.  The coming years will demonstrate if we are ready to accept common standards in science, math, and literature as a nation for the long run, or if individual state standards will ultimately prevail.  Regardless of the choice, the impact of it will have profound effects on students’ lives, success in college, and career choices.