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What is the common core and why all the controversy?

“Common Core” is the hot topic of the moment in education.   But what is all the fuss about?  

What is the Common Core anyway and how will it change education?

Prior to the Common Core, each state individually created a set of educational standards with assessment tests to measure childrens’ progress in these areas. For example, in Illinois, all children in grades 3-8 take the Illinois State Achievement Test(ISAT) or in Minnesota children take the Minnesota Comprehension Assessments (MCAs).

The problem with this is that there are variations in the states’ level of expectations. It is also impossible to compare students across states in order to ensure that all children are receiving the same high quality public education.

Enter the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of standards, not unlike what already exists in individual states. The biggest difference is that the control will be more centralized with one shared test. Fourty five states have currently accepted the common core standards.

Since each state previously held their own expectations, adopting a common core of standards will create change that varies by state. In some instances, the Common Core standards are more rigorous and specific than previously held expectations. For example, this is a current Illinois state goal for teaching reading decoding skills in the early elementary grades:

Standard 1.A.1a  Apply word analysis skills (e.g., phonics, word patterns) to recognize new words.

The Common Core, by contrast, has much more specific language. . In fact, it has an entire set of standards related to teaching reading decoding for each grade. These are the first grade common core standards that target the same general goal listed above:


The Common Core are being criticized for various reasons, including they are too specific, not hard enough, too hard, too confusing, overly top down, or change too many expectations.

In math, for example, the high school math standards are by skill set instead of by the classes in which the skills are specifically taught.  Common core organized the standards this way because another goal of the standards is to encourage integration of math across curriculum areas.  Some feel that this is a top-down decision that will result in lowering of quality math programming.  Indiana, for example, is thinking of re-writing some of the math language in order to organize the standards by the math class in which the skills are taught.

Others are critical that the common core requires more focus on informational text instead of fiction. Common core has standards for both fictional and non-fiction text in all grades, and the Common Core website denies that there will be a required reduction in literature in English Arts classes.  Some believe that Common Core requires that by 12th grade 70% of literature classes need to be technical text.  The Common Core states that 70% of all reading done by 12th graders should be non-fiction.

For some states, the common core standards are no harder nor easier than past state standards, making the transition to a new format and language easy. New Hampshire is such a state.

What’s important to keep in mind is all states already have learning standards.  The common core just makes these standards nationalized with one common test.  Individual feelings regarding Common Core standards probably depend on how you view the national government control of educational issues, and if you believe that the common core test, which will be released in 2014-2015 will be well designed.     Of course, if you’re a test maker who currently sells state tests, it’s not hard to see what you’d be against this change.