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What Is Common Core?

In today's education system, the term “Common Core" often surfaces in discussions. This standard was born from the desire to create a unified set of standards across public schools in the United States. Common Core has seen both advocacy and criticism. This article will explore its origins, purpose, and comparison with previous education standards.

The Common Core State Standards were designed to improve student achievement. They aimed to do this by standardizing the curriculum taught in American schools. Yet, the standards have caused controversy among educators, parents, and politicians. Common Core is discussed in greater detail below. For more information, visit FindLaw's Competency Testing section.

The Common Core: A Brief Overview

Common Core refers to a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers developed it. The standards were first created in 2009.

Its goal is to ensure students across the U.S. receive a consistent, high-quality education. Although the federal government wasn't involved in its creation, it has encouraged states to adopt the project. A majority of states, including California, Ohio, and the District of Columbia, have adopted these standards. They aim to meet benchmarks essential for student learning.

Critics claim Common Core amounts to a national curriculum for schools and leads to teachers being told how to teach. To date, 41 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core.

Common Core Standards

These standards lay out what a student should know and be able to do at each grade level. For example, by a specific school year, there are clear expectations for what students should achieve in math or ELA. Tools like the Smarter Balanced Assessment measure these skills. This test is a product of the Assessment Consortium. The goal is to prepare students for both higher education and professional careers.

The standards, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, are:

  • Research- and evidence-based
  • Clear, understandable, and consistent
  • Aligned with college and career expectations
  • Based on rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills
  • Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
  • Informed by other top-performing countries to prepare all students for success in the global economy and society

The standards describe the skills students should have at each grade level. For example, a first-grade reader should be able to use a story's pictures and details to describe its characters. In second grade, the student should be able to compare and contrast two versions of a story. A first-grade math student should be able to add and subtract. A third-grade math student should be able to do multiplication and division.

Before the Common Core

Before Common Core, every state had its own education standards. This meant that students in Texas might be learning different material than students in Minnesota. Common Core aims to standardize these standards. They help to ensure that no matter where a student is in the United States, they're achieving the same or similar academic standards. However, some states have made alterations or rejected the standards altogether. This includes states like Indiana, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts.

The Common Core standards are viewed as more rigorous. This is generally because they need students to think and reason to a greater degree. The English standards rely on a more even mixture of literary and informational texts. The math standards also focus on the why and the how of problem-solving. Common Core standardized tests are different than typical fill-in-the-bubble tests. They track students' progress through the use of varied tests.

Development of the Common Core

In creating the Common Core, various stakeholders got involved. This includes business leaders, professional development experts, and educators. Teachers, parents, and school administrators also contributed to creating the Common Core. State leaders provided input on the development of the standards. State and local leaders also lead in the implementation of these Common Core standards.

National standards weren't entirely new. The No Child Left Behind Act and the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top program had earlier set previous frameworks, but it was the Obama administration's push that gave Common Core a significant boost. The administration used federal law incentives to motivate adoption by states.

Benefits of the Common Core Education

The following are seen as benefits of Common Core education by supporters:

  • Consistency Across States: With Common Core, a student moving to another state in the middle of the school year would have a smoother transition. This is because the benchmarks for each grade level are consistent across the nation.
  • Preparation for Higher Education and Careers: These standards are designed to ensure students are ready for life after high school.
  • Critical Thinking Emphasis: Common Core focuses on developing students' critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Clarity and Depth: The standards provide clear and rigorous expectations.
  • Regular Assessments: Tools from consortia ensure regular checks on student progress, helping educators to identify and address gaps.

Early Results of the Common Core Implementation

The first year of implementation showed mixed results in high schools across America. Some school districts, especially in states like California, saw improvements in student learning. Yet, challenges persisted. These included teacher training and aligning professional development to new standards. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and other assessment consortia have been tracking progress.

States have implemented the Common Core Standards at different rates. As a result, this made assessment of the results challenging. Yet, early implementation states such as Kentucky and New York showed disappointing results.

Common Core supporters have responded by explaining that poor results are normal for the first assessment. In most states, the first Common Core State Standards tests were administered in the spring of 2015. Supporters also claim that the tests are more rigorous than previous state assessments.

Why Is the Common Core Disliked?

Critics argue that the Common Core strips away state control. Others believe it brings much-needed uniformity. It's also worth noting that states like Texas and Alaska have not adopted these standards. The majority of states first adopted the Common Core, but some, like Indiana and Oklahoma, repealed it later. Each state Board of Education must weigh the pros and cons and provide interventions if needed.

Common Core continues to be controversial, and part of the difficulty in implementation has been political. States may choose to suspend, delay, or abandon the Common Core State Standards. States may even opt-in some years and opt-out in others.

Can Parents Opt Out of Common Core for Their Children?

Common Core sets the academic standard for what students should know. But it's not a curriculum. This means the schools choose the resources and lessons to meet those standards. In many states, there is not a direct opt-out option for the standards themselves. However, parents do have certain rights when it comes to Common Core. For example, in some states, parents can opt their children out of the tests linked to these standards. Each State Board of Education has its own guidelines.

Parents who are concerned or wish to make choices about their child's education should seek guidance. You should talk to your child's local school district or consult with a legal expert to understand your rights better.

Getting Legal Help With Education Issues

Parents, educators, or school districts may have questions about Common Core. Ask these questions, or any other education-related legal matters, to a legal expert. Consulting with a legal expert is vital. These experts have legal educations that allow them to navigate the legal system. They can provide guidance on how federal law interacts with state decisions and can interpret the ever-evolving landscape of the U.S. education system.

Speak to an education law attorney about your legal issue today.

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