What led to Common Core Standards?

The Common Core State Standards have a lot more going for them than most people realize. Surely school administrators, state commissioners and secretaries of education, state boards of education and professional associations including the National Governor’s Association and the National Council of Chief State School Officers in the 45 states that have adopted the standards cannot all be delusional. There must be some reason to support the standards.

The CCSS are only one of a host of guidelines school administrators and faculty consult to inform curriculum, instruction and assessment.

In 1983, the Regan administration funded a research initiative which generated a report titled, “A Nation at Risk.” The report cautioned Americans that education in the United States was lacking compared to other nations such that “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” The repercussions of this report have reverberated in education policy and school reform since.  

Thirty years on, the results of international assessments (e.g. “PISA,” “PIRLS” and “TIMSS”) have consistently demonstrated the accuracy and the stubborn tenacity of the “Nation at Risk” findings. For example, studies released following the 2009 PISA test asserted that “out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math” (NCES).

Subsequent research since 1983 has clarified the fact that this poor testing performance is not present in all our nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools. That is to say, poor results on standardized tests occur in pockets, not throughout the nation.

In studies of nations where schools have gone from mediocre to excellent (as in the case of Finland), school reformers found that high quality teacher training and setting high standards are among the common factors that turn school systems around. Yet, studies have also shown state generated standards can be woefully unequal state-to-state. For example, a 2004 study published jointly by the Fordham Foundation and Accountability Works called “Grading the Systems,” the authors found that many states “did dismally and the averages can most charitably be termed ‘fair’ to ‘poor.’” In other words, after decades of standards writing, many states were still working to get it right.

The CCSS are an attempt to provide a quality set of standards. These standards are not imposed by the national government, but in some cases they are tied to Title I funding.  States may adopt these standards or not.  New Hampshire education officials (some elected, some appointed), have chosen to adopt the standards.

These standards are not perfect, but they are for the most part reasonable. So, I’d like to reiterate the point of my earlier letter: In the interest of balanced fact-finding, please take a look at the Common Core State Standards on your own.

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