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5 Principles in Developing the Common Core

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If you're wondering how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed, this YouTube video featuring David Coleman begins to answer the question. It does not go into great depth, but it does provide some interesting food for thought.

Principle #1: College-and-Career Readiness (CCR)

When students aren't ready for college-level work, colleges place them in remedial classes that bear no credit. Statistics have clearly shown that students who begin college in remediation rarely graduate. When this is considered alongside the infographic below, it's obviously critical that we graduate students who are at least ready to enter college. In order for our students to have a fair shot, even those not aspiring for college should be given the skills necessary to enter post-secondary academic settings poised for success.

But if you don't buy that — perhaps you believe that a good portion of kids just aren't cut out for college and that they don't need to be — the CCSS was designed with college and career readiness as a key guiding principle. From my study of the CCSS ELA/Literacy standards, I can't imagine an employer that wouldn't like people who are adept at speaking, listening, reading, writing, and language. If implemented well, these standards will provide students with the “people skills,” thinking skills, and information processing skills that will be so critical to staying afloat in the economy of the 21st century.

With my students, I liken life after high school to a shark tank, and my job is to help them enter the shark tank as dolphins rather than puppies. Dolphins know how to deal with sharks; puppies don't.

Principle #2: Based on the Best Existing Standards

If the CCSS had sought to incorporate the standards of every cooperating state, they would have been a mega-behemoth. Rather than trying to make sure every state had part of its standards included, the developers of the CCSS built upon the best existing state standards. In the video, Coleman expands on this in the next principle.

Principle #3: Based on Solid Evidence

So how did the CCSS developers decide which state standards were best? Perhaps more pointedly, what matters most in education? Everyone has an answer to this question, and because of that, state standards to date have been miles long and inches deep, aiming to include everyone's ideas.

According to David Coleman's presentation in this video, the developers of the CCSS had to choose between involving a lot of people's ideas and basing the standards on what evidence suggests is best. He does not elaborate on the evidence used to support the CCSS standards, but this information is found in depth in Appendix A of the CCSS for ELA/Content-Area Literacy.

Principle #4: Clear focus

Another key guiding principle for the CCSS was that, if standards are focused on what matters, teachers will have the time to teach and students will have the time to practice. This simple idea — that teachers and students need time to work and focus on going deeper — is why the “wish lists” standards that I've taught under up until now are laughable. When unduly long wish lists become state standards and state accountability tests are based on these long lists, tests based on them become unreliable.

This is totally what has happened with my state's high school social studies assessment. This test, called the Michigan Merit Examination (MME), is based on so many standards that, in order to be guaranteed a perfect score on it, students would need to memorize hundreds of historical facts, ranging from who the Okies were to what significant events occurred in the Paleolithic Era.

For my money, it seems much more sensible in social studies to focus on reading a variety of source documents and making historical arguments based on them.

Principle #5: Local flexibility/teacher judgment

Lastly, the CCSS were designed to include space for a lot of teacher judgment and local choice. There are few texts specifically mentioned in the ELA/Literacy documents, save Shakespeare and foundational documents from US History.

Instead of mandating specific pieces of literature or specific genres, the CCSS focuses on the skills students need to be CCR graduates of USA high schools.

So, what do you think? Are these principles impressive? Do you agree with them? Strengths? Weaknesses?

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