Common Core

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The debate intensifies over standards in education


End of School Year, elementary students with teacher

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The debate over Common Core State Standards, or Common Core for short, has been making headlines in 2014. Common Core is a set of standards defining the skills that students from kindergarten through 12th grade need in order to be prepared for the next grade. Here's a look at how the controversial Common Core evolved.

In 2009, the National Governors Association (NGA) asked a team of administrators, educators, and parents to develop a common set of rigorous standards for grades K-12 in order "to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them." Once the team came up with the standards, they were copyrighted by the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The CCSSO and NGA Center then provided State Education Departments with a license to use the standards on the condition that states uphold the standards.

Race to the Top

In 2009, the Obama Administration started giving states incentives to adopt the Common Core Standards through Race to the Top grants. Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Race to the Top rewards states that comply with Common Core standards, build data systems, raise the bar in their lowest performing schools, and whose teachers and principals meet performance-based standards. States receive points in all these areas and grants are awarded to the states with the most points.

Out of the 50 U.S. states, 44 have adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have not adopted the initiative at the state level, while Minnesota has adopted the English Language Arts Standards, but not the Mathematics Standards. Social studies and science are not covered within the Common Core State Standards. However, science will be addressed in the Next Generation Science Standards, which is in the process of being developed. Next Generation is not part of Common Core, but the content is being developed for use alongside it.

The English Language Standards include these components: reading, writing, language, speaking and listening, media and technology. The Math Standards components vary for the different grade levels. In grades K - 5, the components include: operations and algebraic thinking, number and operations in base 10, measurement and data, and geometry. For grades 6 through 8, the components are broken down as the number system, expressions and equations, geometry, statistics and probability. The high school math standards are divided into six conceptual categories: number and quantity, algebra, functions, modeling, geometry, statistics and probability.

Debating the Standards

Common Core has received both support and criticism from educators and politicians. Conservatives have been critical of the government taking such a major role in education. For example, in 2012, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said that her state shouldn't "relinquish control of education to the federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states."

Some teachers, like Marion Brady from Maine, feel that Common Core's "one-size-fits-all" curriculum takes away from the imagination and initiative of teachers. In a 2013 piece for the Washington Post, Brady wrote that "Common Core kills innovation" and the standards "assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects."

However, other teachers disagree. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, from 2013, mathematicians Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu wrote that U.S. math education "is in deep crisis," pointing out that the World Economic Forum ranks the United States at 48 in math and science education. Frenkel and Wu also said that the crisis "is caused by the way math is currently taught in schools. Today, most students are forced to learn mathematics through textbooks that are often incomprehensible and irrelevant. The Core Standards address these issues head—on and finally offer hope for a better math education."


The first state to implement Common Core standards was Kentucky in August 2010. That year the high school graduation rate was 80% in the state. By 2013, the high school graduation rate increased to 86%. According to assessment testing, the percentage of students considered ready for college grew from 34% in 2010 to 54% by 2013. During the second year that Common Core standards were used in Kentucky, overall test scores improved by 2%.

Although the initial results from Kentucky are encouraging, Common Core is still too new to know how effective it is. Until time passes and more results come in, the debate over Common Core State Standards will continue.

Disclosure: is part of Pearson Education. Pearson Education is involved in the development of tests and resources for Common Core State Standards.

Source: Common Core State Standards Initiative, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

by Jennie Wood

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