This month marks the two-year anniversary of the release of the Common Core State Standards, a set of rigorous academic expectations for English/language arts and mathematics that were envisioned, developed, and now adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. The most telling shift in K-12 public education in recent history is that virtually every state has set new college- and career-ready standards—common-core or state-approved. The process of implementing these standards is now under way as states are working tirelessly to bring them into classrooms—developing curricula, engaging teachers, designing assessments, and revamping instructional practices. As expected, this is hard work, and each state is taking it on in a different way. This two-year milestone is an opportune time to take a step back, recognize the incredible progress that states have made thus far, and look to the road ahead.
There are few things on which our country can broadly agree, and the 46 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools, and their partners in the education and business communities should be incredibly proud to have achieved an unprecedented level of collaboration around high-quality education. Achieving this consensus was no easy feat. When the first conversations about developing a set of shared expectations for students began six years ago, there were legitimate differences among states and others who were involved. Working through these areas of contention resulted in a resolve to do what is right for our students, with the knowledge that this was going to call on all to accelerate our work.
From the outset, the common core has been guided by the goals that all states have in common—teaching students to think critically, giving them the skills they will need in college and careers, and preparing them to succeed in a global economy. The common core began, and remains, fully in the hands of states based on the consensus that all students should be held to a high educational bar no matter where they live. Yes, the federal government has accelerated the progress by playing a supporting role through initiatives such as Race to the Top, but the federal government is in no way the driving force behind this effort.
From the outset, the common core has been guided by the goals that all states have in common—teaching students to think critically, giving them the skills they will need in college and careers, and preparing them to succeed in a global economy."
The states have succeeded in developing the highest-quality academic standards our country has seen. More good minds and resources were put into these standards than any before, and it shows in the results. A wide range of organizations representing parents, teachers, business leaders, and higher education institutions have all voiced support for the common core and are now playing an active role in putting the standards into practice. More importantly, thousands of teachers tell us the common-core standards are superior to their previous state standards, that they are understandable, sequenced in a meaningful way, and teachable. Teachers are now embracing the challenge of translating these new expectations into exciting and meaningful experiences for learners.
As a Kentuckian, I have been particularly proud to witness the great progress that is taking place in my home state. Kentucky has set an aggressive timeline for implementation. Every single district in the state has implemented the standards into their curricula over this past school year. Through a system of leadership networks, teams of teachers, district leaders, content experts, and faculty members from every state university have been meeting regularly to plan for implementation and lead efforts in their respective regions. Simultaneously, teachers across the state have been engaging in professional-development opportunities and working with instructional resources they need to teach to the common core in their classrooms.
Kentucky is not alone. Similar work is under way in dozens of other states. Fortunately, when one state finds a strategy that works, it can share that strategy with other states so students across the country can reap the benefits. Too often in the past, all 50 states separately spent significant time and resources to undertake the hard work of training teachers and developing standards-aligned curricula and assessments. Now these silos are being broken. At the Council of Chief State School Officers, we are convening states to pool their collective knowledge and share these valuable resources.
The common core is not a silver bullet for fixing all the deficiencies in our education system, and nobody ever thought it would be—it is essential, but not sufficient. As states continue to do what is right for our students, I, for one, welcome the vibrant exchange of ideas that is continuing to unfold and firmly believe that the more perspectives we have at the table, the better the outcome will be. It is important that we operate from the premise of moving forward with these high and realistic expectations for our students, with those adults guiding them engaged in a constructive public dialogue to improve the standards in the process. If the momentum we have built up over the last two years is any indication of what the next two will look like, I eagerly anticipate the renaissance ahead.
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2012 edition of Education Week