Common Core State Standards – What’s the Controversy?


Common Core State Standards – What’s the Controversy?We’ve blogged fairly extensively on the Common Core State Standards over the last several months and generally favor them as the path to better critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration that will help students as they enter college and embark on their careers. Yet there’s certainly no shortage of debate over them or their implementation. So why is there so much debate; beyond the fact that we as a country just love to take sides?

Bob Lenz and Ken Kay authored an Edutopia blog titled Two Paths: How Will You See the Common Core in which they characterized these “emerging and diverging” paths:

The first path treats the Common Core as just another set of standards to implement and assess. Educators jump straight to the grade-level requirements and map them to their curricula in a compliance-driven exercise. It starts to look a lot like what we’ve been doing with the No Child Left Behind Act for the last 10 years — a narrowed curriculum focused more on test scores than on college and career readiness.

The second path leverages the strengths of the Common Core to transform teaching and learning. It entails educators taking the time to understand what is visionary about these new standards and how they can help drive college and career success for students.

We think this is a smart distinction and believe that most CCSS critics have taken the first path.  From this viewpoint it is easy to argue against the Common Core State Standards.   These critics may nitpick that reading informational-based texts or non-fiction will somehow diminish the literary background of students that they cherish.  Or they believe that their model of simple curriculum mapping is really nothing new and feel they are being set up for failure particularly when they will be evaluated based on new assessments with higher proficiency levels.

On the other hand, those who take the challenge to travel path two are more ready to believe as RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation does in his blog post – Maybe Common Core Foes Would Be Taken Seriously If Their Rhetoric Wasn’t So Unserious:

Common Core’s reading standards do something that most state standards don’t do very well: Explain to teachers what they should be teaching in their classrooms, and what kids should learn in order to be successful once they enter higher education (including traditional colleges and apprenticeships) and move on to the adult world, regardless of what career paths they choose.

The reality is that the Common Core emphasizes both fiction and nonfiction reading and writing in a way that better prepares students for what they’ll need for career readiness.  It is those on path two who are willing to embrace the implementation of the CCSS as an opportunity to both increase the amount of informational reading that students do and still preserve a thorough grounding in literature.

In fact, with the literacy standards for core subjects, we think the Common Core State Standards create new opportunities for collaboration both across and within subject areas.  These collaborative opportunities will be the place new visions of teaching and learning can emerge to meet the challenges of the CCSS.  First the emphasis on reading informational texts creates great opportunities for collaborations between ELA teachers and their colleagues in other core areas.  With the emphasis on text complexity and the challenge to ramp up text complexity across the grades, the CCSS create opportunities for the vertical articulation of ELA curricula in ways we have seen too infrequently.

Transitioning to the Common Core may not be easy, but we think if teachers set out with an optimistic and positive approach to new methods of teaching, they will open doors to learning that will allow students to meet the challenges they face in a global economy.  And isn’t that what educators want?

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John Wood

John Wood is a career educator and a Senior Curriculum Specialist at NWEA. He received his Masters in Education from Harvard University, and was a teacher of English, Language Arts and Math at the high school level. John also served as principal of Cambridge-South Dorchester (Maryland) High School.

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