Volume: 5, Issue: 3


Common Core Standards: How They Will Change American Education
Пиерсон, М. [about]

KEY WORDS: common core standards, mission, pedagogical shifts, practical applications, support websites.
ABSTRACT: The Common Core Standards have been adopted by 45 states and three territories in the areas of English Language Arts and Mathematics.  New assessment benchmarks are also required to meet these new standards and measure student achievement.  This article outlines the new standards and discusses the ways that America is implementing this new way of teaching.

The United States began requiring assessments for all students regarding their achievement in the early 1990s.  This education reform movement focused on common knowledge of core subjects across grade levels.  However, states held different standards which could be problematic if a student needed to move from state to state.  In addition, educators realized that employers and colleges were beginning to demand higher level skills of high school graduates.  Thus, the need to develop one set of national standards became a prominent need.

The Common Core Standards began to be written in 2009 with a release date of June 2, 2010.  The majority of states reviewed the new standards in the areas of English language arts and mathematics and adopted them within a few months.  A total of 45 states and three territories are currently implementing the new standards, but in many different ways.  The federal government offered incentive programs with a focus on education reform grants called Race to the Top.  This provided a major push for the Common Core Standards to be adopted by the states as they would not be eligible for additional reform money without the adoption.

Mission Statement for the Common Core Standards (www.corestandards.org)

The Common Core Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.  The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.  With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Pedagogical Shifts to the Common Core Standards

There are six major shifts in each subject area that require curricular materials and classroom instruction to be aligned with the new standards.

English Language Arts/Literacy (Engage NY.com)

Balancing Informational and Literary Text

Students read a true balance of informational and literary texts.

Knowledge in the Disciplines

Students build knowledge about the world (domains/content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities.

Staircase of Complexity

Students read the central, grade appropriate text around which instruction is centered.  Teachers are patient, create more time, space, and support in the curriculum for close reading.

Text-Based Answers

Students engage in rich and rigorous evidence based on conversations about text.

Writing From Sources

Writing emphasizes use of evidence from sources to inform or make an argument.

Academic Vocabulary

Students constantly build the transferable vocabulary they need to access grade level complex texts.  This can be done effectively by spiraling like content in increasingly complex tasks.



Teachers significantly narrow and deepen the scope of how time and energy is spent in the math classroom.  They do so in order to focus deeply on only the concepts that are prioritized in the standards.


Principals and teachers carefully connect the learning within and across grades so that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years.


Students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations; teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to memorize, through repetition, core functions.

Deep Understanding

Students deeply understand and can operate easily within a math concept before moving on.  They learn more than the trick to get the answer right.  They learn the math.


Students are expected to use math and choose the appropriate concept for application even when they are not prompted to do so.

Dual Intensity

Students are practicing and understanding.  There is more than a balance between these two things in the classroom – both are occurring with intensity.

Practical Application of the Common Core Standards

In schools around the nation, teachers are scrambling to meet the new requirements of the Common Core Standards.  Many are implementing them throughout their lesson plans while others are eagerly awaiting training on how best to add the components of communication, collaboration and critical thinking to their daily lesson plans.  Most districts have provided professional development training and several have hired teams of teachers to write common lesson plans for each grade level which implement the Common Core Standards throughout each subject.  These teams of teachers then train teachers at their grade level at each school in the district.

Within the state of California, several districts are adopting the materials for the Common Core Standards for mathematics only for the 2013-2014 school year.  The language arts standards will be implemented in the fall of 2014.  Teachers are struggling to gather the necessary materials to teach with manipulatives and hands-on activities while budgets across the state remain tight.  Thus, many teachers are apprehensive about how this new implementation of the math standards will work, yet they are excited about the new possibilities for teaching more creatively.  In several districts, all of the previously used mathematics textbooks have been collected and the new Common Core Standards mathematics textbooks have been given to each teacher.  Teachers are required to teach using these new materials beginning this fall. 

In Washington, D.C., 8th grade language arts teachers are leading the way to model the implementation of the Common Core Standards so that students will become stronger readers and writers (Gewertz, 2013).  They focus on teaching the students how to combine the text with their own knowledge so that inferences can shed light on the main idea in their reading selection.  They then model it for them in front of the class and then after this guided practice, require the students to do it on their own while the teachers visit individual students at their desks.  Students are gaining achievement points and teachers are observing stronger literacy skills overall.  Yet, the teachers admit that this type of teaching demands much more effort than past requirements to teach to the former state standards.

Teachers are also modeling that as long as students can provide evidence to support their claims in writing, there is no right and wrong.  Students are learning to trust their own interpretations of text and to back those interpretations with evidence.  Overall, the Common Core Standards provide opportunities that students experience the text and then be able to ask questions.  Although schools report that many students need additional time to learn this new way of thinking and writing, students are reporting higher proficiency levels overall in writing (Gewertz, 2013).

Websites to Support Strong Lessons

A new website supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called LearnZillion (learnzillion.com) helps teachers learn the new Common Core standards through the expertise of experienced teachers (Harris, 2013).  This website began with 400 video lessons which support the teacher in building strong lessons that address the Common Core Standards in an in-depth way.  Teachers are able to process the way they think about how they teach and look for ways to support students with deeper understanding and broader horizons in language arts and math.

Additional websites that support the Common Core Standards include:

  • BetterLesson.com – educators can connect, create, organize and share curricula with other educators around the United States and internationally
  • Khanacademy.org – this site showcases over 3,600 videos for educators on K-12 science and math topics as well as some on finance and history
  • Groupgenius.org/mathematics – this is the mathematics design collaborative which is built around templates that assign tasks based on Common Core Mathematics Standards
  • Prometheanplanet.com/en-us – this website provides lesson planning tips, strategies, content and resources for multiple subjects for teachers who teach at all grade levels and allows teachers to also share their lessons


Common Core Standards have been adopted by the majority of the states in the United States.  The goal is to improve critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills among all students so that they are more prepared for the workforce and for college.  While the data on these massive educational reform standards will not be available for many years, educators who have not yet implemented the Common Core Standards are hoping to observe immediate differences in the way children and adolescents think, write, speak and learn.  Those teachers who have just begun to teach in this innovative way are already reporting gains in the achievement test scores of their students.   Overall, it will take time to determine if the United States will document strong benefits from this new educational reform, but the majority of educators agree that the preliminary results are promising.


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