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Common Core - An idea whose time has come

Recently the Press Herald printed a Maine Voices column by David Lentini suggesting “too little” was known about Common Core state standards for Maine to embrace them. The writer was concerned about several aspects of the standards, particularly about the Common Core’s impact on local control.

Here is what we know about the Common Core Standards :  they were developed in  a process led by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  The process was broad and inclusive of a range of educators from many states. The actual drafting was no doubt done by a smaller group, as Mr Lentini suggested. As I remember from the early 90’s when I assisted Governor King in the development of Social Studies Standards for Maine’s Learning Results, our state standards, the final product of a committee is often disappointing. As an aside to the Common Core process, at the time of their development Maine’s Commissioner of Education was Steven Bowen and a member of the State School Officers.  Commissioner Bowen was and is a strong supporter of these standards.

Forty five states, including Maine, have adopted these standards. Maine has incorporated Common Core standards in the Math and English Language Arts sections of our Learning Results. A few states may be reassessing their timeframes for implementation, but I am not aware of any who have actually withdrawn, as Mr Lentini suggests.

These standards have been endorsed by a broad spectrum of education and business groups, including the business-led group Educate Maine, where I serve on the Board.  A complete list of endorsements and the standards themselves are available at www.corestandards.org.

These standards were developed because each state had their own set of standards in response to federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation.  These standards varied considerably in the levels of achievement required.  Moreover, US students had been continuing the disturbing trend of performing consistently below the top countries in international comparison testing. In fact the United States was the only country in the OECD, an organization of the 34 developed economies of the world, that did not have a cohesive set of national standards.

For all of these reasons it seemed sensible to develop national standards reflecting inputs from the best of the state standards and those of other developed countries.  Note that these standards define the things our students should be able to master at each grade level in each of the major academic disciplines.

The standards themselves reflect common sense practice.  For example, by grade 3 a student should be able “to write opinion pieces on topics on tests, supporting a point of view with reasons.” A student should also in math : “Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction. “

I think if you review a sample of the standards by grade level you will find they pass the test of practicality and relevance.  They do for me as a layman and former School Board member.  They are strongly supported by the educators who serve with me on the Board of Educate Maine.

These standards are not for the faint of heart.  They set the bar reasonably high, reflecting the standard in other developed countries and in our educators’ sense of what our students will need to know to be successful in school and life. If we want our students to have the opportunity to make the best of their lives, shouldn’t the standards be challenging? One doesn’t get to be a good athlete without lots of disciplined practice. Being a good student also requires discipline and effort.

The Common Core Standards are not a curriculum, leaving that part to local school districts. They do not replace good, well-trained teachers who remain the single most important influence in our students’ ability to learn. However, the Standards should be helpful to our teachers in informing their practice and giving them better focus.

These standards are an important part of our continuing dialogue on how to best prepare our students for what is an increasingly a big and challenging world out there. But take a look at the standards yourself and draw your own conclusions.