Explainer: What is Common Core?
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Explainer: What is Common Core?

common-coreWhat is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics.

What do the educational standards entail?

Common Core is intended to cover fewer topics in greater depth at each grade level. In English language arts, the Common Core State Standards require certain content for all students, including: Classic myths and stories from around the world; America’s Founding Documents; Foundational American literature: and Shakespeare. The remaining decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the Common Core State Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

In Mathematics, the Common Core State Standards lay a solid foundation in: whole numbers; addition; subtraction; multiplication; division; fractions; and decimals. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges in an attempt to prepare students to think and reason mathematically.

Did the federal government implement Common Core?

No, the program is not being implemented by the federal government — though the Obama administration has had some influence over the program. Common Core is an initiative driven by state governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). However, President Obama is a strong supporter and the federal government poured $438 million of economic stimulus funding into developing standardized tests aligned to the Common Core. Additionally, the federal government strongly encouraged states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards” in the competitive grant program Race to the Top and through No Child Left Behind, which outlines consequences for schools that do not meet goals.

Have all the states adopted Common Core?

The English and math standards were voluntarily adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Minnesota adopted only the English standards. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia have chosen not to adopt the standards.

If the states chose to adopt the Common Core, why are so many people shocked that it is being implemented?

In most of the states in which it was adopted, the approval by the state legislators was not required to adopt Common Core. (Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, and Washington were the only states where the Common Core required direct approval from legislators.) In most states, boards of education or comparable state agencies or the chief education officer for the state approved the Common Core. Because this process was not public, many parents and teachers are only now learning it has been adopted in their state.

Do private and parochial schools have to adopt Common Core?

Private and parochial schools do not have to adopt the standards, though many schools are voluntarily doing so. For example, approximately 100 out of 195 Catholic dioceses throughout the U.S. have embraced the new Common Core State Standards.

What are the reasons people support Common Core?

Four primary claims are frequently cited in support of Common Core:

1. Improves standards for learning – Supporters claim, “Common Core offers American students the opportunity for a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K–12 education than most of them have had.”

2. Promotes consistent standards – Supporters claim the standards provide “clarity and consistency in what is expected of student learning across the country.”

3. The standards internationally benchmarked – Supporters claim the standards are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society.

4. The standards ensure students develop the skills and knowledge needed to graduate college- and career-ready – Supporters claim the standards will force teachers to “design lessons that address the particular academic needs of their students rather than relying on textbooks or scripted, pre-packaged, lessons.”

What are the main objections to Common Core?

Four primary objections are frequently cited in opposition to Common Core:

1. The standards are academically deficient – As Anthony Esolen says, “[Common Core] is a bag of rotten old ideas doused with disinfectant; its assumptions are hostile to classical and Christian approaches to education; it is starkly utilitarian; its self-promotion is sludged up with edu-lingo, thick with verbiage and thin in thought; its drafters have forgotten, if they ever knew, what it is to be a child.”

2. The standards will not fix the broken education system — Brookings Institute policy analyst Grover Whitehurst observes that high academic standards and high student achievement are not connected and that statistics show states with high academic standards score about the same on standardized assessments as states with low standards.

3. The method of implementing the standards is flawed and expensive — Randi Weingarten, president of the second-largest teachers’ union in America, opposes the Common Core because of the “high stakes attached” to its implementation. She argues that the Common Core will only be destructive since the government has done nothing to prepare teachers to successfully utilize the standards. Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has pushed for national standards for years, criticizes the government’s use of Race to the Top funding to coerce states into adopting the Common Core.

4. The federal government has overstepped its bounds — The Republican National Committee passed a resolution stating that “even though Federal Law prohibits the federalizing of curriculum, the Obama Administration accepted the [Common Core State Standards] plan and used 2009 Stimulus Bill money to reward the states that were most committed to the president’s CCSS agenda.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).