Susan Riley | January 2014

The Common Core are Just Standards

I have been wanting to write this post for a while now, but I have been holding off.  I know that this is going to make some people angry, some puzzled and some sigh in relief. Probably in that order and in progressively downward percentages.  Here at EdCloset, our articles are mostly advice driven – we help people and we make them happy; I’m not sure this article will make anyone happy.  But, it’s time for a serious dialogue in the truth about Common Core and how it’s affecting you and your kids.  I know what’s coming to me from this article, and I’m okay with that because I want you to form your own opinion and participate in a conversation.  So I will get the ball rolling…

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been watching Facebook, Twitter, and a host of websites blast the Common Core and what it’s doing to our kids and our teachers.  I’ve seen the video of the mom from Arkansas who had 3 minutes to present her case to her district’s Board of Education.  I’ve heard the cries from educational thought leaders that this is going to ruin our educational system.  I’ve even received tweets and facebook comments that the Common Core is propaganda from the Federal Government and a profit-making scheme from Bill Gates, Pearson and other businesses.  Here’s the problem: The Common Core are JUST Standards.  That’s it – no more, no less.  They are a set of benchmarks developed by a consortium with a variety of backgrounds with the goal of preparing our students to face a global reality of changing skills and processes that are needed to thrive in the 21st century.


Is it more complicated than that?  Yes and No.  I don’t disagree with that mom from Arkansas.  It shouldn’t take over 100 steps to solve a simple math problem.  But that’s not the fault of Common Core.  That’s the fault of either a poorly written curriculum to teach those standards, a poorly written assignment, or a teacher who has not been prepared to teach those standards with integrity.  That is the fault of implementation.

This is where we have a problem and where it gets complicated.  I’m not sure that our leadership in schools has taken the time to unpack these standards and truly understand what is required to teach our students so that they can meet those standards.  They have had their feet to the fire to roll out these standards to their teachers in a timeframe that has been unrealistic, given the higher levels of skills and processes that the standards require.  So…they may have picked curriculum that claimed to “meet” Common Core Standards, which in actuality was thrown together by a publisher looking to make money on the shift.  Or, they may have asked their curriculum offices to create a curriculum based in Common Core with unrealistic deadlines.  The Standards aren’t the problem.  Rather, the curriculum, leadership and professional development of Common Core is at the heart of this issue.

Professional Development

One of the pieces that has been a serious stumbling block has been the lack of professional development for our teachers and our leaders in these new sets of Standards.  Teachers and leaders need time to sit down, explore and break apart these standards in order to understand how to teach our students to meet these new benchmarks of learning.  The standards present a definitive shift in what is taught and the process by which our students need to demonstrate their learning.  Teachers can’t keep teaching the way they have always taught and get their students to the levels required by Common Core.

What’s more, teachers know this and have been begging for professional development time, but districts are not meeting their needs – mostly due to budgetary constraints.  This leaves teachers with a double burden: planning for lessons that include Common Core expectations without an understanding of the standards themselves, and seeking out tools and resources to help them in the process.  In essence, they are building the plane while flying it.  Leaders fare no better: state mandates require that they implement these standards in their districts by the end of this year or at most, at the end of next.  With limited budgets and their own lack of understanding about Common Core  (they don’t receive time for professional development, either) these leaders are struggling to support their teachers.

Incredible Potential

The Common Core State Standards weave in skills that are now required of our students to be productive citizens in a global economy, as well as processes and practices to help them achieve those skills.  Never before have we seen standards that ask our students to show how they know these skills.  There is incredible potential for us to understand true student learning and to integrate across content areas with these standards.  Because these standards are based in practices, areas such as the fine arts can finally showcase why students have such success in their classrooms.  As one of our online class participants put it, “it’s nice to know that all teachers are being asked to teach the way WE have been teaching forever” – which is part of the issue.  Classroom teachers haven’t had this expectation before, and without support and professional development, it has been a true struggle.

The other part, which has been a huge missed opportunity, has been that we have not provided our parents with enough information or resources.  These standards require different skills and processes from our students than were expected of their parents.  How can parents help their children at home if they do not have resources available to them?  We should be investing more time and energy into developing samples for our parents, providing them with key information about how they can support their children, and explain how we’ve gotten to this point and what we can do to make it better.  We talk all the time about bridging the gap between school and home, yet we have done nothing but isolate our parent communities.  We need to make partnering with our parents a priority if we expect our students to achieve.

The potential for these standards in enormous, but it will never be realized until the true issues surrounding them are addressed.  It is time to stop demonizing a set of standards and instead, start to recognize and attack the root causes of these frustrations.  I know I haven’t touched upon everything that surrounds this issue in this one article – testing, data, teacher evaluations, etc. – but again, these are issues that surround the implementation of these standards, not the standards themselves.  I, for one, believe that these standards can help us develop curriculum that is relevant for our kids and that can break down those traditional silos and allow for collaboration.  But as has been shown time and again here, that is also in the implementation.  What will be choose to do?

I sincerely invite you to comment on this article and contribute to this dialogue.  While I anticipate a very passionate response, please remain respectful of everyone’s opinions on this topic.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan