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Common Core Standards Are Welcome, But with Some Questions

Major education groups have praise and reservations.

Just days after the nation's governors, state commissioners of education, school administrators and education experts proposed draft common core standards for K12 in English and math, major education groups responded.

The National Education Association, the National School Boards Association and the Alliance for Excellent Education tout the new standards as promoting 21st-century skills of collaborating, problem solving and critical thinking.

"This will be a Good Housekeeping seal of approval," says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. "This will say to businesses that want to relocate or parents considering to where they might move, 'This district, this state adheres to the very rigorous standards recognized across the country.'"

On March 10, the state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) proposed the two drafts: one for math, which is 71 pages long, and one for English-language arts, which is 62 pages long.

The standards are designed to hold all public school students from Maine to Oregon to the same math and English standards from kindergarten through high school, and they are designed to prepare such students for college and careers in the 21st century. So far, 48 states and the District of Columbia are signed on to take part in the initiative, with Kentucky already planning to adopt them.

The draft documents are on the Common Core Standards Initiative Web site,, and are open to public comments until April 2. At that time, the CCSSO will review the comments and consider responding, according to Chris Minnich, CCSSO's director of standards and assessment. Revisions will be made within six weeks, whereupon the CCSSO and NGA Center for Best Practices will devise a final set of standards, Minnich says.

The timeline for states to adopt the standards will vary, with most states taking about six months, according to Minnich. But it will likely take up to three years for states to actually implement the new standards, including aligning the curricula to the standards and providing professional development for teachers.

While Minnich says that there will be no penalties for states or districts that don't go along with the standards, President Obama has recently proposed tying the common core standards adoption to Title I funding, which is subject to Congress approval or disapproval. Anne Bryant, NSBA executive director, says while NSBA and its delegates have supported the concepts of common core standards and implementing high standards, they have understood that such standards would be voluntary and "not mandated as a condition for receiving federal education program funds."

"When the administration tries to grab something and put a federal condition on it, it could upend what [the standards are] trying to do," Bryant says. "Every state in this country needs Title I funding, especially now, and it's close to being a disaster."

Bryant agrees that districts will need to implement more intensive professional development, align curriculum to the new standards, and train teachers to teach to the standards, all of which mean spending more money in these already tough economic times. Meanwhile some districts are discussing cutting budgets by implementing four-day school weeks and not making up snow days, she adds.

Wise adds that the common core standards should be paired with a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind. NCLB allows states to set up their own set of standards, which has resulted in some states setting high standards and other states setting lower standards. Without reauthorization, he says, states will be working with "two forms of reporting." "There is a basic schizophrenia here," Wise says. "NCLB is a compact disc in an iPod world. As districts have gained in sophistication and developed higher standards, NCLB tends to be more punitive and one size fits all." The NEA also believes the common core standards could be improved if the standards were grouped in bands of grades, such as K3, or grades 4 and 5 (which New Zealand does), instead of by grade level, according to John Wilson, NEA executive director. "We think that when you just have standards by grade, you box yourself in according to the 20th-century model as opposed to the 21st-century model," Wilson says. Allowing students to learn at their own pace gives them more flexibility, he says.

But he says that overall, teachers welcome this new set of standards, particularly because they narrow the list of standards necessary for students to reach in each grade. "We believe that having clearer and fewer higher standards is a goal that every teacher has," Wilson says. "The current system has loaded them down tremendously. This has the potential to help them do their work more efficiently. While you may have to invest more time upfront, you will see a more efficient way of teaching down the road."

For example, Barbara Kapinus, NEA senior policy analyst, says teachers can choose from a repertoire of strategies that will fit individual students' learning patterns. "It honors how children learn, and it honors what teachers know about what children learn," she says.

Kapinus also points to one section in the common core standards, which explains 10 standards for college and career readiness in K5 reading. It states that to build this foundation, "students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts."

In one example, reading standards in grade 4 include: drawing on details and examples from a text to support statements about the text, understanding words and phrases in a text that allude to characters in mythology, and drawing on a wide reading of classic myths from various cultures and periods.

According to the standards, grade 8 math instructional time should focus on three areas: solving linear equations and systems of linear equations; grasping the concept of a function and using functions to describe quantitative relationships; and understanding and applying the Pythagorean Theorem.