America / Education / Politics / U.S. Domestic Policy

The Common Core Mystique

Critics from both ends of the spectrum have attacked the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for a number of reasons. “They are a ploy for the federal government to spread its agenda, pollute the minds of children, and diminish teachers’ role in educating!” “They eliminate teacher autonomy and creativity in the classroom!” “They give corporate actors the power to create curriculum for public schools and drive up the costs of education!”

However, none of these claims are true.

Political and corporate games have somehow become staples in conversations of CCSS and its gross potential for destruction of the American education system and future generations. I’ll chalk it up to misunderstanding and confusion from a vast amount of political speeches, letters, newspaper articles, blogs, and anything else that uses words as weapons of manipulation – er – means of communication.

Yes, this too is a blog, and it is giving an opinion like any media platform you see, hear, or read. However, this opinion has no political or economic motives; it simply urges those staunchly opposing or weary of the CCSS to re-examine the standards from an objective perspective based on fact rather than ideology.

States led the initiative for Common Core – not the federal government and not money-hungry private companies. The process began in 2007 when the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Pew Center on the States collaborated on an initiative first introduced by the National Governors Association chair, Janet Napolitano. Her initiative focused on improving education in math and science across America in order to ensure that American schools remained competitive internationally.

A task force* composed of governors, academic leaders, education policy experts, NGA Center affiliates, and researchers from the Pew Center on the States collected research, held debates, and produced a report outlining six guidelines. These guidelines incorporated best education practices already existing in many states to encourage investment and innovation in education. This report served as inspiration for further state collaboration and discussion regarding a set of common education standards.

(View the final report from 2007 here).

Governors, chief state schools officers (superintendents), state education policy experts, teachers, and parents then began forming the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2009, focusing on college and career readiness for American students. The group published drafts for state review and public comment in early 2010, using the feedback to finalize the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and release the final initiative in June.

Since 2010, states have conducted their own review and implementation of the CCSS. As of March 2014, 44 states, the District of Columbia, and a collection of outlying U.S. territories have adopted the CCSS.

Neither federal funds nor national policymakers or bureaucrats were involved in the formulation of the Common Core.

This fact was publicly misperceived when the Obama Administration included CCSS in the grading rubric for Race to the Top, linking Common Core to a federal initiative. As illustrated in the brief background described above, CCSS have been pioneered, deliberated, and adopted by states. The standards have been a state-led goal from day one, using a variety of resources to formulate the final product – including over 10,000 comments from the public and local educators.

Other attacks have included accusations of the Common Core forcing teachers to follow a specific curriculum that will overlook the specific needs of their students and eliminate room for freedom and creativity. The Common Core is simply a set of standards. They give benchmarks for what a student should know after completing a certain grade level. States have overseen decisions regarding CCSS realization in local schools and how to meet the requirements.

The Core does not mandate specific curriculum; it gives general guidelines for what teachers should teach in Mathematics and English Language Arts to ensure their students are adequately prepared for college and a career. The standards do not require every teacher in every state that has adopted CCSS to use the same materials, books, or lessons; the standards just set parameters and establish more cohesion in education across the nation.

Some media sources have confused the Common Core State Standards with Common Core, Inc., a non-profit organization that has developed specific curriculum and tools to parallel the CCSS. States can purchase their curriculum and training materials from their website. However, this organization was established independent of the consortium that developed the CCSS, and is not directly affiliated with the standards. Opponents who raise their voices and shake their fingers at the standards because of such groups are misinformed; this is not “common core money.”

I do not mean to say that the CCSS are the best solution or that they guarantee students leave high school ready for college or a career. I only mean to set the record straight on a few points: the Common Core State Standards are not federally funded or mandated; they do not establish a specific curriculum that schools and teachers must follow, and they do not include the private interests of companies looking to reap a profit off of the initiative.

Issues remain with accountability and testing as an accurate measure of knowledge gained. However, Common Core aims to combine the best practices from around the country with standards from around the world to give American students the education required to succeed in whichever path they choose – a goal I think anyone anywhere on (or off) the political continuum can – and should – support.


*The group that formulated the CCSS also included Achieve, Inc., a bipartisan, non-profit organization. Their work on CCSS has provided open-source resources and tools for understanding and implementing the standards, and is in no way mandated by states that have adopted Common Core. A list of their contributors may be found here.