by Henry Mann
Imagine you are driving your car down the freeway, and you hear the disconcerting rumbling of the engine or the nervous squeaking of the brakes—where do you turn for help? The likely choice is a mechanic, in whose expertise you have the greatest faith.
In the same way, the complex inner workings of the public education system have been entrusted to the knowledge, experience and research of experts in the field of education.
Enter: The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
Despite the lack of clarity regarding what exactly the CCSS is and will imply for the public education system, the reality is quite different from the assorted rumors and apparent misconceptions that have run rampant since the standards’ public debut in 2010.
To begin with, the inherent motivation for the creation of the CCSS was to create standards for K-12 education that set higher expectations for student achievement and that introduced a more rigorous curriculum at all grade levels. It includes a set of content standards that specifically refer to the grade-by-grade material covered in mathematics and English/language arts (ELA) between kindergarten and grade 12.
“Developing a shared vision of educational goals and supportive instruction is essential to building a system that can support effective teaching,” said Linda Darling Hammond, associate professor at Stanford University and noted researcher in the field of education.
In 2007 the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governor’s Association (NGA) catalyzed the development of the CCSS. The two groups collaborated with an array of K-12 teachers and administrators, professional organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, university faculty from leading institutions of educational research, such as Stanford, and other experts in the field of education.
Interestingly enough, the broad and diverse group of educators and experts formed across party lines. In fact, despite the firestorm that occurred among citizens following the adoption of the CCSS by many states, a significant number of politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties have publicly voiced support for the CCSS.
A leading misconception regarding the CCSS is that the standards were developed and funded by the federal government. The truth is that the CCSS was introduced in a state-led initiative that acted independently of the federal government. In fact, the CCSSO and the NGA are entities composed of elected or appointed officials who represent their states’ population.
Furthermore, while rumors have circulated claiming that the federal government financially backed the CCSS Initiative, the funding needed to craft the standards was actually provided by a variety of private corporations and organizations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The confusion regarding the funding of the CCSS comes with the decision by the Obama administration to offer additional Race to the Top money—a federal program designed to spur innovation and reform in the state and local K-12 education systems—to states that adopted the CCSS. The goal was to encourage the states to embrace the higher standards of excellence associated with the CCSS.
Therefore, despite the common rumor, states were not mandated to adopt the CCSS nor were they denied funding if they opted not to adopt the standards. Since their debut in 2010, 45 states, including Ohio, have adopted the CCSS.
In addition to the extensive controversy surrounding the CCSS, there is a significant amount of apprehension in regard to the quality and rigor of the standards themselves. Skeptics of the standards claim that the implementation of the CCSS will dictate the specific instructional practices of teachers as well as the curriculum focus at each grade level.
“We’ve always had standards, and these [CCSS] are just new standards. Districts can choose the curriculum they want. That’s the way it’s been, and that’s the way it will continue to be,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
The CCSS is a set of standards that simply address what will be taught in schools. The curriculum format—which refers to how the information will be presented and taught—is still determined by individual districts, schools and teachers.
The new CCSS emphasizes problem-solving, critical thinking and higher-order skills, which are essential in the increasingly complex and globalized society. As stated so eloquently by Maria Montessori, “education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentials.”