Common Core: Your School is Adopting It, but What Exactly Is It?


By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz words “Common Core”, and most likely, your school has implemented using the Common Core method when teaching. But do you know what it is, exactly? Neither did we, and it turns out that many of our readers are confused as well. So Breezy Mama turned to First Grade and Special Education teacher Libby Curran for some explanations. . .

What exactly is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards are a set of learning targets in Math and English that have been adopted by more than 45 states to make sure children are being taught the same basic skills regardless of where they live. The CCSS explain the knowledge and skills that are expected of students at each grade level so that teachers, parents and students can work together to prepare for success in college and careers.

Who developed Common Core?

The initiative was begun in 2009, with a partnership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. These organizations worked together with parents, teachers, school administrators, and reading and math experts from around the country. After public comment, (nearly 10,000 responses were received), the Standards were released in June of 2010. Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards and local teachers, principals, and superintendents are in charge of putting the standards into practice in their own districts and schools.

Does every state have to teach the Common Core curriculum?

The Common Core State Standards lay out the knowledge and skills that students need to know. They are not a curriculum and do not dictate what teachers should teach or how students should learn. Teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards will come together to make decisions about curriculum and teaching methods.Local school districts have complete control over what curricula to use to meet the standards

I’ve heard that Common Core calls for federal collection of student data. Is this true?

No. The Common Core does not require states to collect new data. Each state will decide how to test students and what data to collect. Anonymous data is collected by states to find out if schools are providing the best instruction to close achievement gaps and help every child succeed. The federal government does not have access to individual student-level data—just general information by school on how kids are performing.

Is it true that children are being tested with value based, rather than fact based, questions?

It is true that the Common Core is raising expectations for higher order thinking and requiring more than rote memorization of facts. The Common Core focuses on improving critical-thinking, problem solving and analytic skills. For example, a child will likely be asked to explain his or her thinking rather than simply solve a math problem. In reading, children are expected to make inferences and refer back to the text to support their conclusions. States and local schools will continue to decide how to teach value-based content and sensitive issues such as evolution based on what is right for their students and communities.

How does the difficulty of Common Core compare to previous curriculum requirements?

Previous state standards varied widely from state to state. The Common Core State Standards were written by building on the best and highest state and international standards. No state in the country was asked to lower their expectations for their students in adopting the Common Core. States can supplement the Common Core standards with additional local standards if they wish. Common Core focuses on fewer standards with the goal of developing deeper understanding and the ability to apply mathematics and reading skills to new situations, as college students and employees need to do.

Is a national standard a good idea? Children differ in more ways than we can list; who said they should all learn the same things at the same time? Is tracking actually more “fair” (even if not politically correct)?

There will always need to be standards in education. Before we had the Common Core, each individual state had its own standards. Neither the original state standards nor the Common Core dictate that all children will learn at the same rate, at the same time and in the same way. It is up to schools to find the best way to ensure that all children are challenged and supported to learn to their greatest potential. Promoting a culture of high expectations for all students is a fundamental goal of the Common Core State Standards. Rather than tracking students of similar abilities together, which often results in lower achievement, schools must differentiate instruction. Flexible grouping, collaborative learning and use of technology are just a few ways that teachers can adapt their teaching to the needs of individual students.

When looking at last year’s SAT and ACT scores, they seem to have dropped. Is Common Core supposed to “fix” this?

Problems exist not just at the high school level. Only one third of the nation’s 4th graders can read with proficiency, according to The Nation’s Report Card. And the situation is far worse when the results are separated by race, income, language or disability. The Common Core Standards are designed to help students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the fast-changing world. Setting higher standards will not be enough. A fundamental shift is needed from focusing on what is being taught to how students are learning.

It seems as if there is a decisive split for those for and against the Common Core standards. Why do you think this is?

Over the years, billions of dollars and countless hours have been spent on programs and reforms with no real or lasting change. The public is understandably skeptical that the Common Core will turn out to be just the latest fad. In the current economic climate there is a fair amount of distrust for what is perceived as a big government project and there is also a lot of misinformation circulating in the media. Amongst teachers, the group of people who are most familiar with the Common Core and who will be responsible for putting the standards into practice, there is a great deal of support.

Anything you’d like to add?

As a special education teacher, I welcome the Common Core standards. It’s all about helping kids become as successful as they can be. I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues to decide what are the most important concepts and skills and finding ways to teach them effectively.

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About Libby Curran: Libby Curran has more than 20 years experience as a First Grade and Special Education teacher. Passionate about teaching reading, Libby has written hundreds of beginning readers to put books into children’s hands and in their homes. She has won state and national recognition for her work in early literacy including a 2012 People Magazine Teacher of the Year Award. This award inspired Libby to find a way to share her books and teaching methods with beginning readers all over the world. Her learn-to-read app, The Reading Train, is the very first app to help our youngest readers meet the Common Core standards by engaging them in reading for fun and information right from the start.To learn more, visit or follow her on Twitter at @readingbuds or Facebook

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  1. DCFetters says

    Common core math is the absolute worst it makes simple math like addition and subtraction very confusing and time consuming for children. Instead of solving a problem in one simple step there are multiple steps making simple concepts look like algebra equations! I absolutely hate it!

  2. Thanks for the clear explanation of Common Core. It’s a controversial subject. It was good to become informed without the emotion and misinformation one hears when folks discuss the subject.


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