You've probably heard the term common core. Now learn more about what's behind the great debate it's created.
How was the common core established?
In 2009 a panel of governors and state commissioners of education began to develop nationwide educational expectations in math and English-language arts for grades K through 12. States began adopting the standards in 2012.
What's the goal?
To ensure that all students leave high school college—and career—ready, says Ivannia Soto, Ph.D., professor of education at Whittier College, in Whittier, California.
Do all states follow it?
So far 42 of them do, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and the American Samoan Islands. States are free to choose whether or not to align with the standards, but adopting them is a requirement for access to some federal education funding.
How is progress measured?
Children in grades 3 through 8 are given assessments, generally lasting six days, each spring. In some states and districts, they will be used in evaluations of teachers and schools.
What's good about it?
With its emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking, "the Common Core reflects the learning kids need to be successful in the global economy," says Parents advisor Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education at Stanford University.
What are its weaknesses?
The yearly assessments, which begin in grade 3, have been criticized for having rigorous (and some feel ambiguous) questions that confuse even adults. Many educators also complain that the level of reasoning required is not grade- and age-appropriate. Also, the Common Core doesn't specify which techniques should be used to teach the new standards. These factors have led a growing number of families to "opt out" of the tests.
How can I tell if my child's school is complying with the Common Core requirements?
Ask administrators how the new tests differ from the old way math and English achievement was measured. If they have a specific answer (such as: "The Common Core puts more emphasis on critical thinking and the application of new skills"), it shows they have a good grasp of the revamped benchmarks. Next, check what's being done to get teachers up-to-date, Dr. Soto advises. Are consultants updating them on how to structure lessons? The more concrete the plan, the more you can rest assured the school is adapting.