9 Things You Need to Know About Common Core

By David Postic


Common Core standards


Recently, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill repealing the Common Core standards for her state. If you’re like me, you may feel as though you missed the boat with understanding everything about Common Core. What is so common about it? What is it the core of? Can I blame Obama for it? At this point, being the supposedly informed adult that you are, it would be almost embarrassing to ask basic questions such as these. But fear not. We have put together a list of Common Core “Need-to-know’s” to get you up to speed:

1. No Child Left Behind and Common Core not the same thing.

The No Child Left Behind Act was passed by Congress in 2001. The Act essentially required states to create assessments in certain skill areas in order to receive federal funding. It expanded the federal role in education through annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and funding changes. Although the Act passed with bipartisan support, it has since come under broad criticism for being easily manipulated for political gain, as well as for failing to recognize localized educational concerns. Common Core, however, as explained below, is different in scope and function than No Child Left Behind. Nevertheless, Common Core standards are beginning to replace the state-based testing standards of No Child Left Behind.

2. Common Core was not created by the federal government.

Two nonprofit state groups–The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers–created the Common Core standards back in 2010. Common Core was not a measure of Congress nor the White House nor the Department of Education.

The federal government has, however, promoted Common Core standards. It can waive certain requirements of No Child Left Behind for states who adopt Common Core. It has also tied Race to the Top funding to Common Core implementation to incentivize adoption of the standards.

3. Common Core does not set a national curriculum.

National standards are distinct from a national curriculum; Common Core only establishes national standards. In other words, Common Core only sets what students should know–not how teachers should go about teaching it (that would be a national curriculum). Federal law actually prohibits the Department of Education from interfering in curriculum, which is determined at the state and local level.

4. Common Core only sets standards in two subjects.

Contrary to popular belief, these standards do not cover every school subject. Rather, Common Core only sets forth requirements for Math and Language Arts. For example, here are some of the fifth grade Common Core standards:

Common Core requirements
via Vox.com

5. New standardized tests are being created for Common Core.

This is where a lot of outrage is being directed. Most states that have adopted the Common Core standards have also joined one of two consortia (word of the day) that are working to develop new standardized tests. The idea is that all the states who implement Common Core will use those new standardized tests. Many states are now opposed to this process and choosing instead to write their own tests, in large part because it is a way to pull back from Common Core without opposing it outright.

6. Students currently aren’t doing all that well on Common Core tests.

Common Core test scores
via Vox.com

Only two states, Kentucky and New York, have assessed how their students are doing under the new Common Core standards. As the chart below shows, scores in both states have dramatically decreased. There are a lot of variables that go into this result. First and foremost, the Common Core tests are more difficult than the old ones, so naturally the initial results will not be good. Additionally, both Kentucky and New York are using tests they created (specialized for their states) rather than a test created by one of the consortia. So it is difficult to tell if these results are just localized to those states, or if other states will see similar test scores.

7. However, the overall impact of Common Core may be positive.

One of the driving forces behind Common Core was the desire to make students college-ready and decrease the number of remedial courses students needed to take in college. Early evidence shows that Common Core is achieving this result in Kentucky, which is sort of the poster child for Common Core since it was one of the first states to implement the new standards. In Kentucky, the percentage of students who needed remedial math courses has dropped 38% since 2009. For language arts, only half as many students need remedial courses.

8. Common Core is not really a partisan issue.

Surprisingly, this is not a strictly Democrats vs. Republicans issue. There are some Republicans that support Common Core (e.g. the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Jeb Bush, the Fordham Institute, etc.), while there are others (such as the Tea Party) that do not. On the Democratic side, the Obama administration supports Common Core, while various teachers unions and other liberal groups are hesitant to support it based on concerns about implementation, student privacy, and a continued focus on standardized tests.

9. Many teachers support Common Core or something like it.

While there are certainly many opponents to Common Core, there is also a large group in support of then new standards. Edutopia compiled a series of polls, showing that many teachers support Common Core or something like it:

  • 75 percent of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supports Common Core.
  • 75 percent of the National Education Association (NEA) supports it.
  • A survey of 20,000 teachers conducted by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that 73 percent of teachers who teach math, English language arts, science and/or social studies in Common Core states support the new standards.
  • A recent survey of principals conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) found that 80 percent of principals support it.
  • The majority of superintendents, too, support Common Core (although that might be a turnoff if you live in Oklahoma). A Gallup/Education Week poll of superintendents showed that somewhere between 58 and 75 percent support the new standards.

(It should be noted that some of these associations–the NEA, for example–are fairly partisan organizations. Moreover, the Gates Foundation has long been an advocate of Common Core standards. I find these surveys reliable, but as a general rule you should always research the people conducting polls to figure out if you can believe everything they say.)

So there you have it–the basics of Common Core.

Hopefully you know more now than you did five minutes ago. While the purpose of this article is to inform rather than persuade, it is difficult to remove our personal views entirely. We are not trying to convince you that Common Core is good or bad; we simply want to give you a better understanding of the issue so you can make that determination for yourself. If you have an opinion you would like to discuss or an argument you would like to make, please leave a comment below. For more information on Common Core, see the Core Standards website or (as always) just Google it.

Edit: Here is a similar article to this one, only from a much more established source.


David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.