A year-long effort to define a common set of academic standards for English and math culminated on June 2 with the release of the final version of the Common Core State Standards, which aim to establish consistent learning goals across states.
The K-12 English, language arts, and math standards are intended to ensure that students in Kentucky have the same learning opportunities as students in Wisconsin, for instance, and were developed in collaboration with content experts, state officials, teachers, school administrators, and parents.
A draft of the standards elicited roughly 10,000 public comments, and the final version reflects some of this feedback. Supporters and developers said they looked to standards in other top-performing countries for inspiration. The standards were released in a joint launch by the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the final standards are “much improved” over earlier drafts and are crisper and more focused on what students need to learn.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, whose state, along with Tennessee, won the first round of federal Race to the Top funding, said it is “critical that our nation makes clear its renewed focus on making sure kids graduate not only ready to compete, but ready to win.”
States should view Race to the Top and the common core standards not as a competition, but as a relay race in which one state shares a successful program or practice with other schools and states across the country, he said.
“Core standards are driven locally, not by Washington,” Markell added.
“Chief state school officers from across the country believe that through collective state actions such as these, we can provide all the country’s children with a world-class education,” said Gov. Steve Paine of West Virginia. “These standards lay the groundwork for students to live and compete in today’s global world.”
Paine said the standards pay particular attention to teacher support and preparedness, which in turn will build students’ capacity to emerge from high school ready for the workforce or college.
Key English and language-arts components include:
• Skills related to media and technology use are especially important, the standards say—including how to evaluate media sources.
• A “staircase” model for reading is advocated, so that students master increasingly complex material.
• There is no set reading list, because the standards “recognize that teachers, school districts, and states need to decide on appropriate curriculum.” The standards do include sample texts to help teachers prepare for the school year and to let parents and students know what to expect at the beginning of the year.
• The standards mandate certain critical types of content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare. The standards defer the many remaining decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, and schools.
• Beginning in the earliest grades, students will learn how to formulate a clear written argument, the standards say.
• Speaking skills, and especially small-group and collaborative discussions that lead to problem-solving, are emphasized.