Standards Opinion

Common-Standards Commentaries: Year in Review

April 23, 2012 13 min read
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This coming fall, the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics will be introduced in U.S. classrooms in all but four states. Over the past 12 months, the common core has prompted numerous Education Week Commentaries and, in turn, reader responses. Authors and readers alike have expressed strong feelings, more negative than positive, about the standards: While some believe such an initiative is long overdue, others are underwhelmed by or critical of what they see as an inadequate set of academic guidelines and an absence of teacher input and instructional preparation.

Once optimistic about a national curriculum that could result from the common core, Andrew C. Porter, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, explained in these pages last August why he had changed his position. “I wish I could say that our progress toward common-core standards has fulfilled my hopes,” he wrote. “Instead, it seems to me that the common-core movement is turning into a lost opportunity.” And in the last issue, in a back-page Commentary, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution wrote, “On the basis of past experience with standards, the most reasonable prediction is that the common core will have little to no effect on student achievement.”

What follows are excerpts from selected Commentaries on the common core and related issues, as well as the reader responses they provoked in online comments and letters to the editor. Some of these Commentaries appeared on edweek.org before being published in the print edition of Education Week.


... In my view, as a former elementary teacher and principal, the [reading] standards overestimate the intellectual, physiological, and emotional development of young children, asking them to think analytically as they read or write, extract subtle meanings from a text, and make fine distinctions within and across texts. Such deliberative and intensive behaviors are not supported by the research on child development, nor are they expected anywhere else in children’s lives today.

... Taken together, the standards and the criteria project an aura of arrogance and ignorance in their assumptions about how and why children learn, what is actually needed to succeed in college or the workforce, and the extent of teachers’ knowledge and expertise.

Joanne Yatvin is a retired public school educator, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, and a former member of the National Reading Panel. (“A Flawed Approach to Reading in the Common-Core Standards,” Feb. 29, 2012.)


... I categorically reject the overemphasis upon nonfiction texts. Even Einstein knew that imagination was more important to learning than what Dickens long ago decried through a suspect teaching character who demanded for youth, “just the facts.”

As badly written as much nonfiction is, I’ll continue to engage students in the “beauty of language” rather than the cold and sterile world of “just the facts.” ...

—jt53, Feb. 27, 2012

... I believe that the apparent approach of the common-core standards seems to address needs of both struggling and strong readers in a thoughtful way. By having kids develop strong vocabularies and exposing them to a wide variety of literature, kids who come from less literate backgrounds can begin gaining the background knowledge they need to understand connected ideas in other areas. And for already-excelling readers, this kind of thoughtful word analysis would play in very well with [Advanced Placement] or [gifted/talented] extensions. ...

I don’t think any of this amounts to having children not learn to read with joy or helping students to become lifelong readers. My experience is that kids become enthusiastic readers when they read things that are interesting and that they can connect to, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. ...

—JulieMB, Feb. 27, 2012


[Joanne Yatvin] ... underestimates the capability and interest of young children. I, too, was an elementary school principal and saw firsthand the interest children took in the world around them. Kindergarten children devoured nonfiction about dinosaurs. They requested over and over again the Magic School Bus books about their bodies.

While I agree that the Common Core State Standards demand more of children and that analytical skills must be developed thoughtfully, young children can grapple with such texts. ...

Linda Diamond, chief executive officer, Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education, Berkeley, Calif., March 28, 2012

... Close reading of informational texts is an important skill, but it is not the same as reading for disciplinary knowledge, an achievement that is brilliantly portrayed on Page 3 of the standards. The document states that those who meet the standards include students who “actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens world views.”

Implementation of the standards needs to teach students to read and write about something important.

Robert Calfee, professor emeritus, school of education, Stanford University, April 4, 2012


There is little question in my mind that national standards will be a blessing. The crazy quilt of district and state standards will become more rational, student mobility will stop causing needless learning hardships, and the full talents of a nation of innovators will be released to develop a vast array of products and services at a scale that permits even small vendors to compete to widen the field to all educators’ benefit.

That said, we are faced with a terrible situation in mathematics. In my view, unlike the English/language arts standards, the mathematics components of the Common Core State Standards Initiative are a bitter disappointment. In terms of their limited vision of math education, the pedestrian framework chosen to organize the standards, and the incoherent nature of the standards for mathematical practice in particular, I don’t see how these take us forward in any way. They unwittingly reinforce the very errors in math curriculum, instruction, and assessment that produced the current crisis. ...

Grant Wiggins is the president of Authentic Education, a nonprofit organization based in Hopewell, N.J. (“The Common-Core Math Standards: They Don’t Add Up,” Sept. 28, 2011.)


It all reminds me ... of the emperor’s new clothes. So many in the education field are looking at the core-curriculum standards without asking these questions and saying, “Wait a minute!” ... My favorite example is a 1st grade standard about time: “The student will tell and write time to the hour and half-hour.” There is nothing inherently wrong with a child being shown how to read a clock face, but that says nothing about how we can help the child construct a concept of time and THEN connect to the social knowledge of reading a clock. I, too, believe many classroom teachers will read this standard and choose a transmission style of teaching with worksheets. There are many other examples in the core curriculum that I believe will be “taught” directly with no context. ...

—smdavis, Sept. 27, 2011

... I do agree with Mr. Wiggins that it would be extremely useful for the mathematics teachers to be exposed to professional-development opportunities which would highlight the marriage of the standards. ... Teachers need to be able to see what the new standards look like in practice so they can more accurately assess their own teaching styles. ...

Clear and simple, what we were doing was NOT working...

—patrickmoses, Sept. 27, 2011


Now bearing the imprimatur of 46 states and the District of Columbia, the Common Core State Standards represent a major step forward for schools and the students they must prepare to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Yet a fundamental contradiction underlies the progress: While we are promoting radical change in creating a coherent national framework for what students should know and the way they learn, we have not yet committed to offering teachers the deep learning they will need to transform the way they work.

Too much of today’s professional learning is not up to the task of supporting the substantive changes required of teachers to meet these new standards for English/language arts and mathematics—and too many plans for supporting the transition to the common core read more like communication plans than serious road maps for preparing educators to teach the standards. ...

Stephanie Hirsh is the executive director of Learning Forward. (“The Common-Core Contradiction,” Feb. 1, 2012.)


... I agree with your insights and quest to provide quality and relevant teacher professional learning to help teachers to implement the Common Core State Standards. The task of improving student achievement to the level of rigor expected in CCSS is very complex. Moreover, teachers just don’t have easy access to the people and tools that can help them, and they dislike attending professional-development sessions and courses that don’t meet their needs and schedules. ...

—Nick Hobar, Jan. 31, 2012

... I support strongly the thesis of this Commentary regarding the importance of professional learning enabling teacher experience and collaboration/dialogue in these areas; only then can they facilitate the pedagogy included with the common core.

Now’s the time to begin the professional learning! By the way, I am absolutely certain there are teachers and community citizens as well as interested university faculty up to the task of supporting such professional learning.

—John Bennett, Feb. 1, 2012


...[T]he case seems clearly made now for reintroducing into the curriculum a systematic and explicit focus on cognitive strategies, which will then be transferable across all subject matter. But without a focused and explicit approach, based on in-depth professional development for teachers, these recommendations will end up being honored only superficially.

Let us move now to consideration of cognitive curricula that meet these criteria and embark on the needed professional development to implement them widely in this country; many other countries are already carrying out this integration.

David S. Martin, president, North American Feuerstein Alliance, Marstons Mills, Mass., Feb, 29, 2012


... We like both [English/language arts and mathematics] initiatives. Setting the bar high is a good thing for all involved. We are, however, disappointed to see so few standards set for teaching competencies for those working in special education classrooms, and, more specifically, for those teaching children on the autism spectrum. In 2010, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that an average of one in 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. According to the group Autism Speaks, government figures also estimate autism diagnoses are increasing 10 percent to 17 percent annually.

Even with these alarming numbers, only a handful of states have adopted autism competencies that provide training for educators. We believe the need for standardized competencies is urgent. ...

Autism is not going away. Let’s work together to create autism teacher competencies and train teachers to apply these strategies inside the special education classroom. Nothing is going to change if we accept the status quo.

Emaley McCulloch & Janet Martin
McCulloch is the co-founder of Autism Training Solutions, based in Honolulu. Martin is a strategist at Autism Training Solutions. (“Where Are the Autism Teaching Competencies?,” Sept. 21, 2011.)


The time for the Common Core State Standards is now. ...

... [N]o one seems to be asking whether colleges and universities are considering the standards and how they relate to college-level work. This is more important than ever, particularly given the level of authority granted to postsecondary institutions to approve the standards in the [No Child Left Behind] waiver-request guidelines. ...

... We shouldn’t underestimate the task of getting our high school and college-level teachers to connect their work to the common core and of routinely monitoring student-performance information. ... The distance between adopting the standards at the state level and actually putting them into practice in the classroom can be measured in how well the work of teachers from both levels of education fits together. Simply having a standard in place is no assurance that higher education and K-12 teaching are aligned to the standard and to the expectations for college-level work. ...

Brad C. Phillips & Bruce Vandal
Phillips is the president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Evidence-Based Change, in Encinitas, Calif. Vandal directs the Getting Past Go initiative on remedial education reform at the Education Commission of the States, in Denver. (“Standards: A Golden Opportunity for K-16 Collaboration,” Nov. 2, 2011.)


K-16 collaboration will be critical for success of any program looking to change how we teach K-12 students. It is no surprise for students to arrive on campus ill prepared to do college work. The lack of K-16 coordination results in a “my own little world” syndrome benefiting no one, least of all the student. [The] common-core standards will work if K-16 educators decide to make it work and school leadership has a vested interest in seeing their students succeed. Sounds easy, but the current school culture is imbued with the industrial model held over from the 1890s and will be a challenge to change. ...

—super90210, Nov. 1, 2011


... The time to consider what’s missing in contemporary schools is past. We cannot afford to ignore students’ levels of engagement with digital-communication tools and popular culture in all subjects. Teachers need to demand that the implementation of the common-core standards includes a focus on teaching media/digital literacies in ways that make schooling relevant and meaningful and that better prepare students for life in the 21st century.

Richard Beach & Frank W. Baker
Beach is a professor emeritus of literature and media at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Baker is a national media-education consultant in Columbia, S.C. (“Why Core Standards Must Embrace Media Literacy,” June 22, 2011.)


... School librarians are not only “poised” to offer this instruction, it is part of their standards for instruction and curriculum. If this is not the case, you might check to see if your children have a highly qualified school librarian or a teaching assistant with a high school education. ...

—University of Colorado Denver, June 22, 2011

... Personally, I don’t want to see “technology” standards implemented because I would have to spend time teaching something that will be dependably five years behind where students need to be and likely focused on the wrong things. I have been teaching what I term science and society that embeds media literacy. ...

My students may not be able to pass a multiple-choice test on the menu system of Word, but they can look for professors that publish, and they can think critically about citation counts. ...

—Bob_Calder, June 23, 2011

The question that first needs to be asked is whether we should have common-core standards at all. The idea of standards seems to be innocent and common sense, but the current movement, from the beginning, has been a means to establish national tests, which are unnecessary (we already have plenty of tests that do the job very well; in fact, we have far more than we need), and expensive (MUCH more expensive than we originally thought).

Susan Ohanian has made this analogy: Proposing standards is like giving out menus to the starving. To extend the analogy, instead of providing food, we are debating what should be on the menu.

We can discuss standards only after we protect children from the effects of poverty (no child left unfed; better health care, access to reading material). ...

—skrashen, June 25, 2011

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2012 edition of Education Week as Common Core State Standards: A Year in Review


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