11 Things I Love About Common Core

America’s first public school opened in the mid-1600’s to only a handful of hungry students. Most colonists agreed education should be done at home, not in a one-size-fits-all schoolhouse. Even in the late 1700’s after John Adams famously pronounced, “There should not be a district … without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense …”, it took until 1918 before all children were mandated to attend public schools.

Even though no one agreed on what students would be taught, a condition that continues to this very day. To misquote William Butler Yeats, often it was more about filling the pail than lighting the candle.

Today, over 3 million teachers and 99.000 public schools educate the almost 50 million schoolage American children at a cost to the taxpayer of over $590 million–but here’s the kicker: lessons are delivered in accordance with 50 separate state education standards. No wonder we struggle to be even ‘average’ on the world academic stage.

The National Board of Governors changed all that when 45 states supported their Common Core State Standards. Adopted in 2010, it immediately found a busload of detractors, engendered fierce arguments, but perseveres in its effort to reform how America prepares its children for college and career. I’m not going to debate these guidelines today. Instead, let me share the top eleven things I love about the new Standards that are now the law of the land all over the country:

  1. They teach speaking and listening. Of all the skills that make a difference in a child’s future, their ability to speak and listen to others tops that list. How have we not included this in the past? I have no idea and truly don’t care. I’m happy it’s part of the plan now.
  2. They differentiate between fact and fiction. Too often, Hollywood movies that fictionalize history is taken as fact by viewers. Teachers show the movies as though this is what really happened. The ability to compare two presentations of events and determine truth from Other is a mature concept which appear in the 8th grade Reading-Literature (#7) and Reading-Informational (#9) standards, but the requirement of educated minds to question the world, seek out authentic information, evaluate what they hear/read/see/taste is a common strand throughout the Standards.
  3. They make tech part of a learners life. Oh that makes me happy. Considering children enter kindergarten with a love for technology (iPads, parents’ smartphones), it only makes sense that we scaffold on that appeal to educate them
  4. They spiral. Learning builds year to year, each grade level scaffolding the next. If a student struggles on a subject, it is easy to spiral down a level, shore up that knowledge to bring the student up to grade level. Or, conversely, if a student excels in an area, teachers can spiral upward to the next level of learning. Differentiation has never been so clear.
  5. The anchor standards are highly flexible in how teachers achieve them. They encourage ‘flexible learning paths’. Teachers understand the broad strokes and are expected to fill in the picture. For example, I can use games (that’s right–visual) to achieve the goals of reading (literature and informational–not foundational or Language) to accomplish goals like Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3). Wonder how? I’ll be posting on that soon. The bigger point is: Common Core is not a curriculum. It spells out what should be accomplished, but not how. That’s up to the teacher. They can use any method that works for their student group.
  6. it isn’t a curriculum–it’s a guideline. That bears repeating: It isn’t more material to stuff into already over-packed teaching days. It’s a framework to organize thoughts, goals, ideas. A school adopts a curriculum and uses Common Core to implement, focus, and highlight.
  7. it gets teachers thinking ‘outside the-way-its-always-been-done box‘. There’s a lot to accomplish, none of it prescripted. It uses words like collaborate, publish and share, domain-specific language, lead high-level text-based discussions, focus on process not just content, respond to the varying demands of audience-task-purpose-discipline, comprehend as well as critique, value evidence, demonstrate independence, build strong content knowledge, leaving the who-what-when-where-why-how in the teacher’s competent hands.
  8. It concentrates less on hard skills than a way of thinking, asking students to create thought habits, be problem solvers, approach life as critical thinkers. It expects students to integrate and evaluate, interpret, make strategic use of [technology tools], understand other perspectives and cultures, value evidence, comprehend as well as critique. The teacher decides how best to accomplish these goals.
  9. It focuses on not just college, but career. Some students aren’t right for college and that’s OK. Bill Gates wasn’t right for college.
  10. It gives teachers permission (and a nudge) to teach more traditional literature. Yes there’s good new literature, but there’s so much great older literature. How do you pick? Common Core gives permission to students to value books like Wizard of Oz, , The Odyssey, Metamorphoses, Sandburg’s Fog. I get goose bumps just thinking of what’s contained in those tomes. This literature shaped our world, added similes like ‘it’s a tale of two cities (replace with the comparative noun of your choice)’, ‘me thinks he doth protest too much’, and more. I love all literature, but to understand my world, I have to understand what great have said about it.
  11. a return to non-fiction. For those of us who believe ‘history repeats itself’, this is a no-brainer. For those of us who believe students must understand the world around them to fix its problems, this is brilliant.

How about you? Now that you’re diving into Common Core, what are your favorite parts of how it’s changing your teaching?

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Author: Jacqui
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

34 thoughts on “11 Things I Love About Common Core

  1. I really have to ask – Have you ever sat in, on a day after day basis, on a Math or English class and watch the students? Paid attention to what is being taught and how? I understand that you see supporting Common Core as something that will help forward your career but have you ever thought about the students and not you?

    What you have here is the superficial talking points that State Ed Departments across the country are using as fluff – talk to classroom teachers in Math and ELA, look at the poorly written activities that websites like engageNY have “developed” for teachers to use. Also, take a look at the developmentally inappropriate content in Math and ELA and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    It is disingenious of you to support something that you personally do NOT teach. I’m sorry, a tech teacher is much different than someone who teaches a class (Math, Science, Social Studies and ELA/English) that is bombarded with endless testing expectations, incomprehensible expectations and most importantly – expecting students to simply “raise the bar” when they have been taught with certain past expectations and then suddenly told that we are expecting more without giving you the tools in your previous years of education to reach those expectations.

    1. MaryAnne’s is one of the more benign responses I got to this post. I’m amazed at the vitriol, the personal insults, the hyperbole, the lack of specific evidence, that well-meaning readers (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and not allow emotion to rule my response) think is appropriate in a conversation. I can only imagine they are beyond the point of reason which results in their flaming reactions to Common Core. I do understand that, so let me address a few of ‘Musing MaryAnn’s’ thoughts.

      First, of course I’ve sat in math and English classes–and taught them. The tech teacher must do that to recommend tech materials that support the teaching and inquiry going on. I’ll do a lot more of it because Common Core places a high value on digital tools to deliver learning. I take that obligation seriously.

      Supporting Common Core doesn’t ‘further my career’–this blog is free, no one pays me to write about Common Core. I found this an odd statement. If my points are similar to someone else’s ‘talking points’, I’d like to see that link. I have thoroughly read EngageNY and the Common Core Standards, with different conclusions than you. That’s not a bad thing. Democracy is built on the right of all of us to engage in robust and even heated discussions of topics. I think time will tell which opinion is right, but we won’t know this year.

      I am never disingenuous in my articles here. They are always based on my experiences and those of my colleagues. And, being a blog, they are always my opinions. That is a good thing–that we-all can civilly discuss a topic, cite evidence, quote sources, educate each other. I look forward to that sort of interaction with readers.

      Your last few sentences are really good, MaryAnn. Common Core does expect students to ‘raise the bar’–as well as teachers. It is a high bar, one the current education status quo has had trouble meeting for many years (being college and career ready) and one that students will not achieve the first year. If your district thinks that will happen, then that’s an implementation issue, not a problem with the Standards. Common Core lays a foundation of skills, attitudes, higher-order thinking, that is used in future years’ learning, students can’t get it all in just one year. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes the full K-12 cycle for us to see how well it works. The question I have (after reading a lot of reactions like MaryAnn’s) is will we give it time.

      Note to readers: If you feel you must be insulting, rude, abusive, to get your point across, I will not publish your comment. Follow the same rules you teach students to use in conversations–perspective taking, evaluation, listen and respond, cite evidence–well, you know the drill.

  2. Not to be a “Debbie Downer” but these standards are not the law of the land as there is no federal law mandating them. It’s an individual state by state adoption. While I applaud the goal behind CC, why does everyone see them as a magic bullet? Just because a state adopts them doesn’t mean that a state has the resources to support their implementation nor the accountability to insure that every district adequately implements them. NCLB had “pie in the sky” goals with negative unintended consequences.

    1. You’ve put your finger on the big problems, BP. Schools are struggling with implementation. Sure, in theory, they’re great, but so is world peace. How do we make it happen? I have my fingers crossed.

  3. I will be very transparent up front. There is little of anything connected to the Common Core with which I agree. But I will not go into all the reasons here. The one question I keep asking though, is Why? Why did we need to throw away 45 state standards, many of which were superior to CC without any evidence that CC stds work? Why are we aligning the GED, SAT’s, ACT, state assessments, etc. to an untested program? Why did we need to implement this initiative so quickly, and not do it correctly by starting in K-1? Why are there no accommodations for special ed students? Why were the standards written behind closed doors, with those involved having to sign confidentiality agreements to not speak of the proceedings? Why weren’t more teachers involved in writing the standards? Why were so many writers employed with testing companies on the committees? Why are the standards copyrighted? Why weren’t the standards field tested before going national? Why were they tied to applying for RttT grants and had to be adopted whether money was granted or not? Why are they being touted as state-led when the NGA and CCSSO are nothing more than lobbying groups? Why are so many teachers quitting due to the adoption and implementation of CC? Why, then, if these standards are the answer to all our education ills, are more than 20 states now trying to remove them from their states? If someone could answer these Why’s, maybe then, the Common Core Standards could stand on their own merits and could see them for what they are, good, bad or indifferent.

    1. Lots of good questions, Jodi. The reason Common Core–or, more succinctly, change in how we educate our children–came about is because American education isn’t working. A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute says that these new Standards will improve ed in 85% of the states. 15% had a better system prior to and hopefully their governments will make adjustments for that. But truly, our education is broken and something had to be done.

      I was shocked how quickly so many States adopted it. Probably had to do with government subsidies or some such encouragement.

      I, like you, am surprised how fast SAT and ACT are lining up to comply with Standards that can’t possibly be fully taught for several years (because they scaffold year to year). I’m not sure how that will work. I don’t know enough about when ACT/SAT will fully make the switch.

      That would have been a good idea–start in kindergarten and add a year at a time. Clever. While I find a lot to like in the Standards (as itemized in the article), phasing it in probably would have helped implementation.

      Teachers quitting–I understand. These are huge changes, not the least of which is a massive increase in the daily use of technology in the education setting. I know from experience there are still many teachers who resist integrating tech into their lesson plans and inquiry. Now, they must. No choice. Gotta do it. That means they have to learn it. I am not judging good or bad on that, just evaluating.

      In the trenches, I hear 10-to-1 against Common Core. If it can survive five years, and teachers adjust to the many radical changes in an industry they thought they knew–were comfortable in their ability to perform–we will probably be better off. I may be wrong. Time will tell.

      Thanks for your rational, well-considered comment.

  4. Sorry, but I haven’t found anythign to love about the common core. Things to hate about the common core.
    1. The implementation of it. In so many ways it’s wrong. to implement with a 2nd grader and say you can’t go back when they don’t understand the new method of teaching and show them what they would have learned in 1st grade if the core had been implemented back then.
    2. Teaching by script and not being allowed to go off script to explain when the kids don’t get it.
    3. daily testing stresses out kids, especially young kids.
    4. teaching kids to count on their fingers instead of memorization of basic math facts.

    and on a more personal note all of these resulted in my daughter struggling with math, which used to be her favorite subject. She thought she was stupid (yes her words) and she gave up trying in all subjects because she felt she coudln’t get anythign right. She told me she couldn’t get anything right and it all began with math this school year.

    Well, her attitude has improved dramatically in the last 3 weeks. What turned it around? No more common core, especially common core math! We are homeschooling. In 3 weeks I’ve already seen her improving. 3 months of common core math, resulted in a loss of 2 years of skills. She’s still not at where she was before the nightmare of the core, but at least she’s finally improving instead of regressing.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Valerie. The implementation of Common Core seems to be problematic in many areas–and it sounds like yours is included. It shouldn’t be–it’s not a curriculum–but ‘should’ doesn’t always matter. I’m so glad your daughter is doing better.

      1. I’m sorry but I am with Valerie on this. My son is great at math. He can do it in his head. He also has ADHD and getting him to write things out is difficult. He doesn’t understand why he can’t just stick to the “old school” way of math because it works for him and it doesn’t stress him out. When you’re a kid with ADHD and you feel like there’s not really anything you can do or are good at except one thing and then are told your answers are wrong in that one area you’re really good at all because you didn’t follow the CC and did it old school is destructive to a kid. As far as I’m concerned CC can go back to where it came from. There are too many unknowns with this program but it’s being thrust upon our children regardless.

        1. In your shoes, I too would dislike what is being called ‘Common Core’ in your district. But truly, there’s nothing in CC that says you can’t differentiate for student needs, adapt to unique circumstances (like your son’s ADHD). They are Standards, not a curriculum. I know from talking to friends that many teachers blame CC for the inflexibility of teaching, but I think blame lies in implementation.

          Are you familiar with Daniel Tammett–wrote ‘Born on a Blue Day’. He was mainstreamed educationally despite being autistic. Any teacher knows that diagnosis requires individualized lesson plans. Problem was, he wasn’t diagnosed until well into his educational career. Yet, his teachers accommodated what they saw as his unique needs and he thrived. That’s differentiation–that’s the job of teachers. To take a body of learning that must be accomplished (i.e., CC) and figure out the best way to communicate it to each student.

          There’s nothing in CC that says your son can’t explain how HE finds the solution to a problem. It merely asks that the student explain. Daniel Tammett sees it as a horizon he reads from left to right. Your son will be different but just as authentic. His answers aren’t wrong. Maybe he isn’t being asked the right questions or maybe he’s not being listened to (which makes me very sad).

  5. Wow! I’m amazed at the overall dislike of the CC Standards! I don’t think they are “everything,” but they are a step in the right direction. This is a chance to teach to real “mastery,” and not mediocrity. Teaching real “thinking” skills, not spoon-feeding the masses of children that come through our doors. Kids don’t know how to problem-solve, they are used to the teacher giving them everything. How efficient is that when a student can go to the internet and find just about anything they want? The challenge here is make sure they have the critical thinking skills to ask the right questions, evaluate data, and synthesize the information they find. How realistic is it to teach all of our subjects separately, when in the real world they will use math, reading & writing skills together in many different ways? How nice it will be when I get a new student in the middle of the year and they will be somewhere in the vicinity of where my students are – not a year behind. Change may be scary to some, but I think it is scarier to continue as is; Remember the CC is a framework, it is the teacher’s skill that makes it successful or not. The fear I see is that there isn’t a Teacher’s Manual for a lot of this – which to me is freedom, but to others a real problem. Get your creative juices flowing again, how can you use PBL to make your students independent learners, responsible for what they learn? How unfair are we to ask our students to turn off their technology when they enter school? Do you know how many things students can do with technology to show their understanding of a concept? Will some students try to abuse it? Of course they will, they’re kids! It’s our job to monitor, which isn’t so hard once the students are doing the work and you are guiding them. “What am I doing this year that will help these children not only for next year, but for the rest of their lives?” If I ever get to the point where I don’t ask myself this question, that will be the time I leave teaching.

  6. As a parent of two very bright students, I have to say I love Common Core! I finally feel that my kids are being challenged. They aren’t bored in their classrooms and saying they don’t want to go to school. The way they are being challenged to think critically, compare and contrast and analyze is a breath of fresh air to me. Before I felt that they were being held back, waiting for the other students to catch up to them, but now they are given the opportunity to stretch their intellectual wings and see where it takes them. I’m saddened by the negative backlash from parents and teachers regarding Common Core. Change is hard and I think it’s going to take time for all of us to adjust to this new way of teaching and being held to a higher standard can be scary. I just pray we give it time before we abandon it. I think it has a lot to offer, maybe it’s not perfect, but a lot wasn’t working before so it was time for a change.

    1. You are a breath of fresh air, Hillary. I am constantly on defense with Common Core, which confuses me. Most issues are with implementation, not content. They are Standards–not a curriculum. Still, that seems to confuse so many. How is that?

  7. The STANDARDS, RttT, over-testing, stressing out students, ambiguous and tedious assignments; I don’t care what you call it, (and this is in NO way a personal insult) it’s ALL awful. We have seen enough, experienced it, lived it, seen the effect on our children, and done our research. There are no selling points that could possibly change my mind as a parent. Having teachers and administrators reach out to me, thanking me for speaking up tells me I am on the right side here. Again, this is not at all personal, Jacqui, but after four years, in the two districts we have lived in, on top of all the parents I have met in NYS, Common Core, and the ENTIRE reform in education is a disaster.

    1. It makes me really sad to here feedback like yours. I can tell it’s heartfelt, from the trenches. Common Core seems to be going sideways in so many places when it should have been wonderful.

  8. I am excited about common core. I actually love it. I don’t usually say that out load because other parents get angry. I think the major issue is the strong resistance to change. I used to manage a Dr’s office and whenever we implemented a change people would fight it give 800 reasons why it would never work, some people would quit but eventually people forgot the old way and got over it. I really hope they don’t give in to pressure from ignorant parents and scared teachers. I read something saying parents don’t want their kids to take the test because they might do poorly on it. So you don’t want your child to be challenged? I don’t understand why people aren’t excited about an update to our educational system. Give it a chance.

    1. I fear you and I are in the minority with our love for Common Core. A big problem I see in talking with teachers, parents, and others across the country is it’s seen as Federal government intrusion. The standards themselves aren’t–how can they be? They’re not a curriculum, only guidelines?–but I think the Feds added too many (mostly data collection) requirements to qualify for education funding, it confused the issue. I also think there were insufficient guidelines for rolling it out so different Districts did it differently, some better and worse than others. Overall, it’s become quite a mess. I have my fingers crossed that time will fix the issues.

  9. I teach at a college with a strong academic reputation. Sadly, even our average US student is not sufficiently prepared for college level coursework. They really struggle when asked to do anything other than memorize facts & regurgitate them on exams. The amount of remedial work necessary in reading, writing, and quantitative literacy is disheartening. I am excited to see what Common Core standards will do as implementation issues get worked out – in theory they are exactly the focus needed.

    The “old way” IS broken (or at least outdated). My “average” international student runs circles around my “good” US born students in the classroom when it comes to critical thinking, as well as to the transfer of theory & concepts to real world situations…and those international students are usually learning in a 2nd (maybe 3rd or 4th language!)

    My boys’ private school adopted Common Core early so it has been in place K-12 for a few years now – so far so good! The school rarely refers to the standards as Common Core openly but that is what they are & results from parent survey after parent survery indicate that our families are thrilled with the education their children are experiencing – as long as we don’t CALL it Common Core 🙂

    1. Interesting feedback, Amanda. I’ve thoroughly read the CCSS and find them logical, basic, and applicable to all types of curricula. Who can argue requiring students provide evidence of decisions? Knowing how to speak to a group–and listen to others? What valuable skills! Yet, Common Core is tainted by mismanaged implementation. I like your school’s solution–adopt it but ignore the name. Sounds like a good solution to the hyperbole and emotion surrounding its use.

  10. I have 2 kids (one in kindergarten and one in 2nd grade) and have to say I love the way their school is implementing common core standards….especially the math, which I’m hesitant to say in front of many others, as all parents are apparently supposed to hate so-called “common core math”…but for me, it’s exactly the way I think about how numbers work, and more importantly, my kids are doing great with it. I love that they learn many ways to approach the same problem and have to show their work and that it’s not just memorization. And honestly I think a lot of the parents who hate it so much – because they fear change – are setting their kids up to hate it too with their own overwhelming negativity.

    I’m in NY state, and recognize that my family was lucky enough to get common core from the beginning of primary school (as opposed to others who were in, for example, 4th grade and had a complete change in curriculum and standards without the background from earlier grades…it should have been started with kindergartners and then moved up each year). I am also not a fan of quite the amount of testing that there currently is, but that was around long before common core – conflating one with the other is unhelpful.

    In any case, there’s so much emotionally based vitriol out there, I was relieved to read this post. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am saddened by the lashback against Common Core. Reading the Standards, there’s nothing to dislike. I think it’s telling that studies are showing 17 out of 20 of the Common Core math curricula do not comply. From what I can see, delivery is the problem, not what’s in the Standards.

  11. Hi Jacqui. I know this article is more than a year old, but 6 weeks ago I didn’t even know about CC. But then the spell was broken and my oldest boy started Kindergarten.
    What I don’t get is this disengagement with reality. I keep reading the standards, and the design, and even when I’m not for the “one age fits all”, the whole concept is supposed to give freedom to both teachers and students.
    But reality hits and the program that the school has is way far from what the CC promoters tell you. There are badly written books and the whole bulk of the classes has been done weeks ahead, with total disregard to the progress of the classroom as a whole. Every book has the words “Common Core” written and it really seems like a corporate scam from a friend of the governor that was selling ink to another friend that made this badly planned books in a rush and charged the schools close to 90 bucks per student a year for each subject. I know that was not what was intended, but I’m not speaking from the beautiful Utopia you describe in your article, but from reality.
    And what I see is teachers so pressured to meet the standards, that they forget different ways to get there, get frustrated with creative students and take most of the time away from them, which they can’t dedicate to arts and sports. If a goal requires all the average student’s time both in and out of school and a personal tutor, such goal is not realistic, period.

    1. That does make me sad, that the delivery of these Standards is so poor–and it seems to be all over, in many schools and states. I do agree with you–that the programs being delivered are far from what CC promised. And I think I’d be furious as a parent to see my child stuck in the middle of it. I still find myself often quoting the original Standards (rarely their delivery) in my lessons as the goal. Who could argue with Kindergarten Standards like “Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion)” “Recognize and name end punctuation” “With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text”.

      Sadly, something happened between the Standards as written and the curricula entrusted with delivering them.

  12. It seems like all of this rage comes from three quarters: (1) parents and teachers who were taught the old way (simplistic memorization/repetition), who can’t themselves figure out the new way, and therefore, who don’t understand the value of the new way; (2) politically-oriented folks who see this as an infringement on local control; and (3) the tendency of many people to complain about whatever the current system is (be it educational, political, etc.) because they think they know better (the ‘common sense’ argument).

    But logically, I don’t understand all the breathless hatred of Common Core. Our school district has been doing Common Core for three years now. My kid (in 8th grade) and her peers are doing fine. Certainly, the standards have frustrated some teachers, and their have been some growing pains in the schools. But the teachers were encouraged, and the kids put in the effort, and so they actually *learned* the subject matter. My daughter has earned all A’s, because she (and we, her parents) took responsibility for her education (rather than trying to blame standards).

    Seems to me, parents and educators are doing a disservice to their kids by constantly bad-mouthing the school’s educational process. It gives the kid permission to fail, by allowing them to shift the blame to Common Core.

    1. You put your finger on so many good points. I agree with every one of them–and am pleased to hear it from a parent. I’m glad to hear your daughter and her peers are thriving under its common sense and self-empowered approach.

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