Overview of the Common Core State Standards


Why Common Core State Standards?

Reagan Years

Some have argued  that the antecedents to the Standards journey as far back to the Reagan administration, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report titled "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform." The report referenced academic standards as “expectations” or “minimum competencies” and recommended:

  • “Strengthening” high school graduation requirements
  • Adopting more “rigorous and measurable” standards for admission in to four-year universities, and
  • Utilizing more effectively the school day and school resources toward learning “new basics.”

One specific recommendation included moving from a 180-day school year toward a 200- to 220-day school year and increasing the length of the school day to seven hours.

Bush I Years

In response to this report, the George H.W. Bush administration convened the states’ governors for an education summit in 1989. The summit unveiled a bipartisan consensus that the country needed anchored educational goals. Additionally, the governors felt strongly that the federal government’s role toward meeting those goals should be limited to providing supplemental funding to the states in their individualized efforts toward meeting these national educational goals.

Clinton Years

During the Clinton administration, a number of efforts to develop national goals or standards ensued. Subsequently, the Clinton administration proposed a national assessment for math and reading, which in turn riled its political and ideological opponents and the proposal died.

Bush II Years

Despite the failed efforts to put into operation national standards and national assessments, the urgency around improving educational outcomes for all American students persisted. In 2001, the urgency manifested itself in Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The signature education legislation of the George W. Bush Administration, NCLB placed the federal government squarely in states’ own education reform efforts. Of the more maligned provisions of NCLB was the federal requirement on states to ensure all students reach 100% proficiency in math and reading by 2014. For schools failing to make “adequate yearly progress” toward this goal, punitive measures followed. As 2014 crept closer, it became more and more evident that the 2014 goal was unrealizable, let alone statistically impossible. Yet the urgency for improving American education remained.

Obama Years

Perhaps learning from the lessons of the Clinton and Bush Administrations, and with a continued sense of urgency, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) convened their members and formed an advisory group to chart a way forward. The advisory group concluded by publishing Benchmarking for Success. This publication called for an upgrade in state standards in math and English language arts (ELA) that would be common across all states and would be internationally benchmarked. Benchmarking for Success also advocated that:

  • States leverage their collective influence to ensure that textbooks, digital media, curricula, and assessments align with internationally benchmarked standards, and
  • States revise policies for recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting teachers and school leaders.

Immediately following the publication of Benchmarking for Success, NGA and CCSSO began an initiative, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) to develop academic standards that would be:

  • Common: The standards would be the same across all states and in all grades,
  • Core: They would address core academic subjects only (math and ELA)
  • State: The standards would be state developed and implemented,
  • Standards: The Initiative would address standards only, not nationalized curricula or a national test.

Who developed the Standards?

CCSSI developed the Standards by drawing on the input of educators and educator groups, higher education stakeholders, content experts, parents and the public. Throughout the development process, CCSSI also drew upon the expertise of an advisory board that included Achieve, Inc., ACT, the College Board, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and State Higher Education Executive Officers.

In September 2009, CCSSI released a draft proposal of the college- and career-readiness standards for public comments, and in March 2010, it released a draft proposal of the Standards for grades K-12 for a second round of public comment. The Initiative reported that it received over 10,000 public comments during this time. In June 2010, CCSSI released a final draft of the Common Core State Standards , and by late 2011, 45 states, the District of Columbia and two territories had formally pledged to adopt the Standards.

What subject areas do the Standards cover?

The Standards only address ELA and mathematics. Key components of the ELA standards include:

  • Reading: text complexity and the growth of comprehension
  • Writing: text types, responding to reading, and research
  • Speaking and listening: flexible communication and collaboration
  • Language: conventions, effective use, and vocabulary.

Key concepts in the high school mathematics standards include:

  • Number and quantity;
  • Algebra
  • Functions
  • Modeling
  • Geometry
  • Statistics and probability.

What grades do the Standards cover?

The Standards include mathematics and ELA standards for each individual grade from kindergarten to eight and, in order to allow flexibility in high school course design, two-year bands for grades nine to 12 (i.e., one set of standards covers grades nine and 10 and another set covers grades 11 and 12).

What criteria were used to develop the Standards?

According to CCSSI , drafters sought to craft core standards that:

  • Align with expectations for college and career success.
  • Are clear, so that educators and parents know what they need to do to help students learn.
  • Are consistent across all states, so that students are not taught to a lower standard just because of where they live.
  • Include both content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills.
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards and standards of top-performing nations.
  • Are realistic, for effective use in the classroom.
  • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society.
  • Are evidence and research-based.

What impacts will the Standards have on classroom curricula?

Curriculum must align with the Standards in core content subject areas. However, states retain sole authority over which Standards-aligned curriculum to adopt (a number of vendors currently offer a variety of Standards-aligned curricula and instructional materials); the consortia will not ask states to yield over that authority. As is currently the practice, most states allow state and local boards of education to choose their own curricula, which they do from a variety of both in- and out-of-state providers and venders.

States vary in terms of how they regulate whether districts and schools adopt quality curricula. Some state boards of education allow districts to choose from a menu of approved curriculum providers, while most other states leave these decisions to individual districts, and in some cases individual schools. Faced with the difficulty of ensuring locally chosen curricula and instructional materials are Standards-aligned, states may need to provide districts and schools with detailed guidance and oversight over the adoption of high-quality, Standards-aligned curricula. Given the explosion of electronic- and internet-based curricula and instructional materials, state guidance and oversight may be all the more needed.

How will the Standards impact teachers and school leaders?

Successful implementation of the Standards hinges on what occurs in the classroom. Teachers and school leaders will therefore play a pivotal role toward successful implementation. To support teachers and school leaders in this role, state departments of education may redirect existing professional development resources toward materials, programs, or statewide initiatives designed to support teachers and school leaders as they master a Standards-aligned pedagogy.

How will the Standards impact the relationship between K-12 and higher education systems?

Out of concern that incoming freshmen were increasingly ill-equipped for both the rigor and nature of higher education instruction, a primary objective of the Standards was to improve student readiness for college and vocational training.

Accordingly, Standards implementation will directly impact at least two programmatic areas within state systems of higher education. First, to ensure a seamless transition from high school to post-high school learning, state systems of higher education will have to coordinate with state departments of education to align freshman curriculum with twelfth grade Standards-based curriculum. This may also include aligning college admission requirements with the Standards.

Second, colleges of education may have to adapt pedagogical instruction to align with the Standards to ensure new educators are prepared for teaching the Standards in the classroom.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources