By Douglas Fehlen
Aligning Education Objectives
The topics American students learn about in K-12 schools can vary considerably depending upon where they live because there is no federal oversight of curriculum in U.S. schools. Rather, states can rely on their own discretion when it comes to determining what it's important to teach in schools. The degree of academic rigor and types of teaching methods can also differ significantly across states.
The Common Core Standards Initiative is designed to help states align their efforts to educate children. Established in 2009, the initiative is the product of a partnership between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The objective: Make classroom curricula more uniform across states while ensuring that standards for learning are clear and easily understandable to teachers, students and parents.
Teaching by Design
The development of Common Core Standards has allowed states to collaborate in coming up with a framework for teaching that will provide students with a first-class education. Last June, standards for language arts and math were introduced and most states adopted the curriculum. Trials incorporating the new standards framework are now underway in districts throughout the country, with full implementation set for 2014.
The Common Core Standards were developed by a group of teachers, education researchers and content experts with important objectives in mind. One primary consideration was providing learning experiences that adequately prepare students for college and work. To achieve this goal, the new standards feature more comprehensive teaching in high-order thinking skills, including critical analysis. The group putting the standards together also placed importance on evidence-based education practices and clear, consistent student expectations.
Growing Consensus Around Standards
Given the diversity of the United States, there may have been reason for concern that states would have a difficult time coming to agreement on a set of standards for math and language arts. However, 44 states and U.S. territories have already signed on to implement the standards. Adoption of the curriculum has been helped by the fact that the Obama administration has shown its support for Common Core Standards. The Department of Education's signature Race to the Top program, a grant competition that rewards efforts to implement education reforms, gives states competing for monies points if they have adopted Common Core Standards.
While most states have embraced a more collaborative, unified approach to educating K-12 students, some have declined to adopt the standards or even participate in their development. Alaska and Texas are notable examples of states that seemingly have no interest in bringing their curriculum into line with what will essentially be a national benchmark for education. The standards do have some built-in flexibility within the curriculum, which has ensured that the majority of states are on board.
The Common Core Standards represent only one recent development in education. Learn more about school reform efforts underway around the U.S.