They’re all the buzz. Common Core State Standards, also known as CCSS, of course, because in education, you have to have acronyms. Remember that a year ago, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) coordinated the efforts of 48 states to develop common standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. Our governor and Gov. Parnell of Alaska went on strike (figuratively speaking), refusing to participate. Gov. Perry stood firm on his convictions, insisting that standards in Texas are already strong.
July 21, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a comprehensive report: The State of State Standards—and the Common Core—in 2010. They collected the final version of the CCSS for ELA and mathematics and the K-12 standards from all 50 states and then asked a group of “trusted content experts” to apply a set of criteria to all of them and then compare and score them. They concluded that the CCSS for ELA and math are “clearer and more rigorous” than those in 37 and 39 states, respectively.
I wanted to see how the experts compared the CCSS to Texas standards. In ELA, the CCSS earned a B+ while Texas ELA standards earned an A-. According to the experts, the Texas ELA standards “provide excellent guidance to teachers” and “ensure that all students will be held to equally rigorous standards.” Texas ELA standards rated above the CCSS because they are “more clearly written, better presented, and logically organized.” The full report, which you can read at http://edexcellence.net/index.cfm/news_the-state-of-state-standards-and-the-common-core-in-2010, provides specific examples and much more detailed information.
In math, Texas didn’t fare nearly as well. The CCSS for math earned an A- while Texas math standards earned a C. This struck me because our students struggle so much in math and science, and now content experts indicate that the state’s standards are “mediocre” and the CCSS are “significantly superior.” Although they concluded that our math standards are “well presented and easy to read,” the experts wrote that the “approach Texas takes to setting priorities is contradictory.” Obviously, this needs to be addressed immediately. We all know that if a foundation is weak, the structure itself cannot stand strong.
This report is comprehensive and compelling. On the main page, there are two maps that provide a visual representation of how each state’s standards compared to the CCSS in both subject area and links to the reports on each state. It is indeed eye-opening for teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members.
The day before the report’s release, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call the Fordham Institute conducted for reporters. One point they stressed: Standards aren’t the whole story. States must align those standards with a strong curriculum. More key points: States must then provide the appropriate instructional materials. Highly qualified teachers should be in all classrooms, and they should have access to excellent professional development. A strong accountability system (such as passing a standardized test in order to graduate) must be in place.
Keep in mind that many states are adopting the CCSS in order to qualify for Race to the Top monies. Gov. Perry declined to join the race. Those monies come with strings hanging out all over the place and requirements that must be fulfilled long after the money is spent.
I’ve never supported initiatives based solely on the “gimme factor.” We must separate ourselves from the money long enough to ask the most important question: Is it what’s best for our students? In Texas, since we’re not racing to the top, we need to at least create math standards that will prepare our students to climb higher.