Common Core = Common Sense

A decade ago, if you asked an educator in this country if we would ever get to a “national curriculum,” 90% of them would say, “not in my lifetime.”

This fall, for the first time in our nation’s history, 90% of our public schools will begin using the same standards for math and literacy. Forty-five out of fifty states (all but Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia as of this posting) have adopted what’s referred to as the “Common Core State Standards Initiative.” These standards define what our kids are expected to learn in math and literacy from kindergarten through grade twelve so they’re ready for college and future careers.

cc mapI look at the Common Core as a giant cart of groceries for each grade level. The recipes a school or teacher uses with these ingredients—the actual books or materials they use to instruct – will vary across districts. But nine year-olds like, Teddy, in New Jersey, and, Bridgette, in Illinois, will both be introduced to fractions in third grade. Teachers will have the flexibility to bring their own style and creativity to the lessons. The timing of when standards are taught during the year will differ across districts, but what teachers teach and what students learn, in theory, will now be the same across most states.

This coast-to-coast curriculum is not technically national because it was adopted state by state and is implemented by the National Governors Association. It provides higher standards and much needed continuity across states, districts, schools and, most importantly, each classroom within your child’s grade. The higher standards will keep our kids competitive worldwide. And the consistency makes moving from school to school or state to state easier, eliminating gaps in your child’s education.

The Common Core’s expectations translate to a more rigorous curriculum in many states – making the next few years a challenge for many teachers, students and families. In states where standards were already high, like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland, changes will be minimal. But no matter where you live, the Common Core brings some needed changes to your child’s school day.


In math, you will see more spiraling curriculum (the same subject taught at different levels of depth from grade to grade) and a greater focus on understanding the math concept. This means your kids will be introduced to algebraic thinking in third grade and continue to build on it through high school. Your children will be asked to explain how they got their answers. There will also be more focus on practicing and memorizing math facts. What can you do to help your kids manage these new expectations? The next time you eat a pizza – quiz your kids on what percent they ate and how they know that. Dig out Monopoly and let them practice mental math as the banker. Use those frequent car rides to review math facts. Despite our digital world, kids still need to know how to make change, multiply and divide.

In literacy, your child will read more non-fiction, which usually means more difficult text. They will be required to write more opinion papers using evidence from challenging text to support their views. The curriculum will also be more integrated across subjects so – in theory – your child will read a non-fiction book for reading that links to what they are doing in science. The best thing you writingcan do to support your children’s efforts in literacy is read with them and to them as much as possible. Read nonfiction books on topics they’re interested in. And ask questions that help them understand the subject matter on a deeper level.

In short, the Common Core requires higher standards and more thinking and understanding from our kids. And that’s a good thing. New standardized tests (given via computer) to support the Common Core will be introduced in 2014-2015. But this time they won’t be run by 50 different states with big discrepancies in difficulty. If you live in one of the Common Core states, your child will either take the PARCC test or Smarter Balanced test. As long as these new standardized tests(PARCC  or Smarter Balanced) capture this higher quality thinking, the Common Core initiative will serve our children well.

Now if we could just agree on those history standards.

Smarter Balanced parcc




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