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Common Core and the Law

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (Common Core) refers to a set of guidelines intended to steer schools toward common benchmarks for accomplishment. This program details the kind of materials to be covered and the acceptable scores for advancement. By aligning graduation requirements, curriculum materials, educator preparation, professional development, and data systems, Common Core intends to standardize education from kindergarten to high-school graduation with a heavy focus on mathematics and literacy.

When the initiative was introduced in 2010, a majority of states adopted Common Core standards within a few months. This decision was influenced by the fact that in order to qualify for federal Race to the Top grants states were required to adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments. Common Core was not the only program that would meet this requirement, but early adoption would earn extra points in excess of those available for self-created or other standards.

It's important to note, however, that Common Core standards have not been adopted by Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. In addition, Minnesota has only adopted the ELA (literacy) standards.

What Subjects Are Covered?

The Common Core focuses on "core" subjects, which the developers have determined to be ELA (literacy) and mathematics. The program doesn't provide that specific texts or lessons need to be taught, but instead focus on the concepts to be taught using whatever texts are necessary.

Key concepts in ELA include:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Language
  • Speaking and Listening

Key concepts in mathematics include:

  • Number and Quantity
  • Algebra
  • Functions
  • Modeling
  • Geometry
  • Statistics and Probability

How Are Schools Assessed?

Common Core requires schools to be periodically assessed. Participating states have split into two consortiums that take different approaches to assessment.

PARCC Race to the Top Assessment Consortium

The PARCC RttT Assessment Consortium refers to schools that have implemented a computer based "summative assessment" for each grade administrated under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Race to the Top programs. While membership in these consortiums has been fluid, at present, the PARCC states include Arkansas, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium uses adaptive online exams. As with the PARCC program, testing is conducted to ensure that standards are met. The major difference between SBAC and PARCC's tests is that SBAC's are "adaptive," meaning that each student's test will be different, though all student tests will conform with the requirements to the test "blueprint." SBAC member states include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The Response to Common Core

Public responses to the Common Core have been impassioned and highly politicized. Those in support of Common Core point out that since it sets standards but not curriculums the system permits adaptiveness and tailored engagement within localities and even among students. Teachers, schools, and states may still introduce a variety of curriculums designed to meet the circumstances and interests of their students.

However, this flexibility may itself be a source of legitimate criticism. Since the goal of the program is to set common learning goals and standards the failure to designate texts or curriculums may eliminate many of the purported benefits. Critics also complain that the constraints of the new system provide fewer opportunities for students to learn at different paces over time. Some perceive the implementation of national standards as necessarily compromising the ability to adapt education to local or individual development.

Common Core's focus on literacy and math has also been seen as problematic. In conjunction with legislation such as No Child Left Behind, Common Core is seen as reducing schools' interest and motivation in providing education in art, science, history, and physical education. With assessment focused on literacy and math and federal funding contingent on the scores that result from these assessments there's an increased urgency in the teaching of these subjects that, critics say, has contributed to a decline in the quality and amount of teaching in other subjects.

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