Standards Opinion

Does the Common Core Limit Teaching?

By Robert Rothman — September 12, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The 2014 PDK Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools garnered a lot of headlines with its finding that a majority of Americans--60 percent--said they opposed the Common Core State Standards. This finding naturally caused considerable concern among supporters of the Standards. But a closer look at the findings caused even more concern, because it reflected a misunderstanding of what the standards are and their potential for advancing the kind of learning students need and teachers would like to foster.

When asked why they opposed the Standards, only 38 percent stated as a “very important” reason the idea that the Standards would create a national curriculum--the reason many politicians have expressed for opposing the Standards. Instead, the most important reason for the public’s opposition was the idea that the Standards “will limit the flexibility that teachers have to teach what they think is best.” Some 65 percent of the opponents said that reason was very important, and another 22 percent said it was somewhat important.

It’s hard to know where this idea comes from. Teachers have repeatedly said that they like the Standards, even if they feel that they have not received enough support to implement them effectively. As Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the new president of the National Education Association, told Politico, “When I read the Common Core, ... I thought, ‘That’s how I taught. I wanted kids to think, give an opinion, give reasons why they believed this or that. I’m all over that. I’m good with that.’”

And schools have shown that the Common Core does not limit the kind of teaching they want to do to develop students’ deeper learning competencies; instead, the Standards encourage it. Ron Berger, the chief academic officer of Expeditionary Learning (and a regular contributor to this blog), cited two examples in a recent blog post. One is from Springfield Renaissance School, a 6-12 district public school in Springfield, MA. A video on the blog shows students discussing Macbeth. The video highlights a key feature of the Common Core State Standards, using evidence from complex texts. But it also shows students demonstrating that they can think critically about the text, collaborate with peers, communicate effectively, and take responsibility for their learning. Indeed, the students lead the class.

A second example is from Polaris Charter Academy, a K-8 school in Chicago. In 2012-13, a group of seventh graders from Polaris, as part of a year-long study of the U.S. Constitution, launched a project to address the problem of gun violence in their community, based on their understanding of the Second Amendment. The students organized a citywide Day of Peace, which included producing four public-service announcements, and produced a book, “Peacekeepers of Chicago,” that featured profiles of city residents who worked to end violence in the city. The project was closely aligned to the Common Core, particularly the standards for using evidence to make arguments.

(I saw a group of students from Polaris make a presentation about the project to a group of about 500 educators in San Diego in March, and can report that they blew the room away.)

As Barbara Chow, the education program director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, noted recently, there is considerable evidence that the Common Core is consistent with deeper learning. But as Berger points out, whether the Standards produce the kind of student learning that teachers like Lily Garcia want to see depends on how they are taught. As he notes:

The standards can be a force for positive change only if they are joined with fresh, inspiring teaching practices that engage and impel all students to new levels of achievement, and create classrooms where higher levels of commitment, respect, challenge, and joy in learning are the norm. This is the opportunity before us: to build and share models of innovative and effective deeper learning that support students to meet and exceed these ambitious standards. This is an opportunity to create a new vision of what teaching and learning in public schools can be.

Whether that vision comes to be will take greater public support. The PDK Gallup poll shows there is work to do on that front. Clearing up misconceptions and showing the potential from places like Polaris and Springfield Renaissance might be a good start.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Standards Opinion How the Failure of the Common Core Looked From the Ground
Steve Peha shares insights from his on-site professional-development work about why the common core failed, in a guest letter to Rick Hess.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Standards Opinion Common Core Is a Meal Kit, Not a Nothingburger
Caroline Damon argues Rick Hess and Tom Loveless sold the common core short, claiming the issue was a matter of high-quality implementation.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Standards How New Common Core Research Connects to Biden's Plans for Children and Families
A study of national test scores indicate the early phase of the Common Core State Standards did not help disadvantaged students.
5 min read
results 925693186 02
Standards Opinion After All That Commotion, Was the Common Core a Big Nothingburger?
The Common Core State Standards may not have had an impact on student outcomes, but they did make school improvement tougher and more ideological.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty