Here Come the Common Core Standards

In Chuck Pack’s Geometry class, students learn how many rubber bands will provide the maximum amount of bungee jumping thrill for a Barbie doll, determining how far they can drop her from the ceiling to the floor before she makes impact.

“They’re collecting data, they’re using data to make predictions, they’re graphing their results, and they’re learning about slope and linear relationships,” says Pack, who teaches in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. “But the best part is that they persevere in this problem solving assignment. They don’t give up, because they really want to see if and how it will work.”

The Barbie Doll problem is a “Common Core Standard” in action. In fact, “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them” is the first of the new Common Core math standards.

What Is the Common Core?

Released in 2010, the Common Core is a set of curriculum standards, covering English, language arts and mathematics, based on what all American students need to know before entering college or the workplace. Fifteen school districts nationwide are preparing to launch a test of new standards as early as this fall. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia will fully implement the standards for the 2014-15 school year.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) led the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The groups worked with representatives from participating states, a wide range of educators – including Chuck Pack – content experts, researchers, national organizations, and community groups. The Common Core standards are also informed by the standards of other high performing nations, including Finland.

Their purpose is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, no matter where they live, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

They’re also designed to be much more rigorous than current standards and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers.

“Rather than reading drills, we’ll ask students to apply reading skills in a broader, ‘real world’ context,” explains says Barbara Kapinus, National Education Association Senior Policy Analyst, who facilitated NEA teacher member input and feedback for the development of the new standards. “Instead of asking kids to stand in one spot and throw basketballs into a hoop over and over again, we’re getting them to play as a team and score points in a real game, using not only their shooting or layup skills, but dribbling, passing, and all of the other skills necessary to play the sport well.”

So gone are the days of summary book reports – students will have to analyze the story rather than rehash the plot  – and no more teaching kindergartners only to memorize the hands on the clock to tell time.. Now they’ll learn numeracy – the relationships between the numbers, so they’re prepared to learn more complex relationships with higher numbers in first and second grade and beyond.

Real World Learning

Ricardo Rincon also helped develop and review the Common Core standards. Rincon is an elementary school teacher at Monte Vista Elementary in New Mexico, a school with a high population of English language learners (ELL).

“It was important to work and collaborate with other teachers on the standards because our knowledge and experiences with ELLs is different,” Rincon says. “As individuals, we can only contribute based on what we independently know, and our recommendations may only be meaningful to the students in the state we serve. As a team, our collective knowledge and experiences created a foundation for recommendations that could apply nationwide.”

Rincon was most impressed by how the standards got young students to begin developing skills they will continue to use well beyond high school.

“Knowledge-based responses will no longer be enough,” he says. “Students will have to move beyond understanding a concept – they’ll have to make it meaningful in their lives.”

Students will work in teams when learning concepts, Rincon says, and as part of the new standards, they will have to evaluate areas of strength and areas in need of improvement in their own work, and in that of the other teams. Evaluation and offering meaningful feedback is a skill many adults are still grappling with – the new standards will ask elementary school students to master it by the time they enter middle school.

In Oklahoma, and in most states around the country, educators and reformers alike have long complained that math standards are a mile wide and an inch deep. Chuck Pack was eager to take part in developing a new set of standards that are more in-depth and more rigorous.

“I currently teach 12 chapters in one year of Geometry,” he says. “In the Common Core, I’ll have six units that cover concepts more comprehensively.”

Like Rincon, Pack is impressed by the “real world” skills so many of the standards require, such as the standard that asks students to not only make sense of problems, but to persevere in solving them.

When some of his students see that a problem will take them more than a few minutes, Pack says they’ll cave. They’d rather lose a point than persevere. He often teases them that a single problem on one of his quizzes could easily take up an entire piece of paper.

“That’s reality. If your boss gives you a task to complete, I guarantee it’s not going to fit on one line,” he says. “So to make them work ready, we need to build into our practice as educators a way to give them rich problems that force them to persevere – problems that are so interesting they really want to solve them.”

Like bungee jumping Barbies, for example.

But Pack realizes it will be a slow, difficult process before he’s transitioned to the Common Core. While some states expect to have them in place by 2014, Pack says his district is introducing them gradually, one or two standards at a time.

“You can’t just flip the switch to the new standards,” Pack says. “The most challenging part, getting started, will begin this summer.”

Visit for more resources on the Common Core Standards.

  • Great article. I am a teacher-turned-entrepreneur and have built an online Learning League in CT that has helped 17,000 students to master skills defined as core by CT. We are building AMERICAN LEARNING LEAGUE to do the same for the whole of America with the Common Core State Standards. Our “Home Games” will expand an active vocabulary by 400 words a year, for example. With enough expressed interest, we hope to offer AMERICAN LEARNING LEAGUE for free. Please find us on the Internet and sign up for more information. Good luck to us all 🙂

  • Tara Moore

    Our state has just adopted the new Common Core and will be implementing it in pieces during the 2011-2012 school year. A lot of our professional development training has been focused on the critical thinking that will be included in the Common Core. Some of the teachers that I work with are concerned with how to teach critical thinking skills in elementary when in the past teachers have used direct instruction and modeling for students. Does anyone have any transition ideas that I can pass along to the teachers in my district?

  • Mrs. E

    I have no problem with the standards for my subject; they seem to be well written, and I like the depth students will go into to explore topics. The big problem I have is that Common Core will require everyone to test every quarter. This means that everyone has to be “on the same page.” I also saw a sample question for first grade, and it was totally inappropriate for a developing reader. It makes me sick to think that a first grader would be tested in this manner.

  • Ruben

    Just wondering if these Commion Core Standards include or will include Foreign Languages.
    Thank you

  • Dennis Pucci

    As a veteran “40 years in the trenches” music teacher, I have witnessed many of the “innovations” in education. In light of the current Common Core Standards concept it is both odd and distressing that the “Core” education in the arts –the areas that have always utilized the goals of “common core” education will be cut to make way for more of another new idea. Music students have consistently been taught to analyze, work together and to understand the “delayed gratification” of working for months–or most of a year–to accomplish a goal. How about including ALL curricular areas in establishing goals for a truly education society!

  • Jay G

    Welcome to The United Socialist States of America. More Federal control of our local school districts. You think we had red-tape in the past. Just wait until we have to spend half of our teaching time writing up reports for some bureaucrat to read about how we implemented these “reforms” for every single kid, every single day. HURRAY, MORE PAPERWORK! If you cared about your job, you were teaching critical thinking skills before the FEDERAL government stepped in to FORCE you.

  • The Common Core is a move in the right direction with regards to emphasizing depth over breadth. The writing standards are very rigorous, and sets high expectations yet are realistic. There is a new ebook available at Primay Education Oasis that has all the rubrics for K-5 for writing along with prompts that are aligned to the Common Core.

  • Tyson

    “Instead of asking kids to stand in one spot and throw basketballs into a hoop over and over again, we’re getting them to play as a team and score points in a real game, using not only their shooting or layup skills, but dribbling, passing, and all of the other skills necessary to play the sport well.”
    This is the only way you get better at shooting a basketball. So now we’ll have 0 kids knowing their facts by high school because some “expert” thinks the best way to get better is to scrimmage all practice, every practice, instead of actually doing some skill drills. The skill drills work when kids take responsibility for their learning and parents are supportive. Then their would actually be time for a scrimmage. But oops, there I go again…asking people to be responsible instead of just blaming teachers and public schools.

  • Vet Teacher

    Another Federal order handed down to all states. “When some of his students see that a problem will take them more than a few minutes, Pack says they’ll cave.” Are we supposed to reverse the trend of instant gratification provided by electronics by using a “Barbie drop”? Graduating high school students cannot read rulers, subtract 3 from 7 without a calculator, divide 12 by 4 WITH a calculator, or write a grammatically correct sentence, let alone an entire paper. So, we’re going to move even further from teaching basic skills? Imagine how strong our public ed system could be if the national DOEd ceased to exist. What a sad state of affairs.

  • Jared

    I agree with a lot things on this comment list, but let’s get some of the facts clear:

    1) The Common Core Standards are NOT federal mandates. These are coming from the Council of Chief State School Officers–and though you can easily argue that it’s still bureaucratic, you have to admit that these are educational standards coming from EDUCATORS, not a senate committee. That means that the people who wrote the Standards actually have a clue.

    2) As for the basketball example, it’s not “scrimmage all day, every day.” Please, teach your basic skills! The Standards simply put more of an emphasis on applicable, hands-on learning. Not everyone learns so well by sitting at a desk. And unless you let a kid “run scrimmage,” they’ll never know–or care–why they’re chucking a ball into a hoop (proverbially speaking) day in and day out.

    So I’m going to ask the question all of us are afraid to answer: are we too scared that the Common Core Standards might actually work? None of us can deny that there’s got to be a better way than what we’re doing now, but if we don’t make any changes, then nothing will change.

    Funny how that works…

  • Sarah

    While I might agree with some points that Jared (above) has to include, some points are not completely valid. True, the Common Core Standards are not federal mandates, and yes, they were developed by the CCSSO…in part. While the standards were originally and innocent attempt on Michael Cohan’s part to bridge gaps for those entering college, other contributors have put another spin on them. The CCSSO joining Cohan’s attempts was a strong step in the right direction as it allowed the various assessments from around the nation to compare and level the playing field. Once the NGA entered the mix, the whole thing became political. In the attempt to save tax dollars in a struggling economy, splitting the cost of a common assessment sounds better than funding your own state’s assessment entirely. Who would deny this? However, I cannot fully believe that the involvement of the NGA was as innocent as Cohan’s original intentions. Now, we have the Gates foundation adding their financial contribution, which surely comes with finding “common ground” on what should be included, and let’s not forget the $67 million the Federal Government contributed as well. Don’t misunderstand, that the funding is appreciated, but noting is given without something expected in return. So from those investors and additional associations involved who surely have their say, we cannot concluded that the standards were purely derived from those who “have a clue” when most have not ever stepped inside a classroom.

  • Ken Brown

    This whole system we have is breeding the next generation of under achievers. Teachers are bound by constricting mandates and laws I believe that we should give the teachers the freedom to teach using the method they embrace because the teacher has to believe in what she is teaching if the teacher isn’t “all in” with the prescribed methods the kids will not be “all in” with there learning! Give teachers freedom to teach there way and hold them accountable for results.

  • Lisa

    Seriously? Bungee jumping Barbie? This is held up as a model of how to teach these geometric concepts? The fact that no one sees anything wrong with this type of contrived idiocy is a good indicator of how ridiculous we as educators have become. There is nothing authentic about this activity. Next time, why not introduce GI Joe into the problem? At least he has access to a parachute.
    This is a classic example of what desparate teachers do to march to the drum of perscribed standards. What has happened to authentic experiments, that require independent, creative thinking/problem solving. Authenticity and real world relevance are as important as rigor and engagement in instruction. This type of lesson offers no opportunity for students to create their own hypothesis and develop authentic means by which to test it. Gathering, recording and interpreting data are basic skills that can be practiced in a variety of scenarios, which allow students to be independent analytical thinkers.What happened to critical thinking on the part of the adults who serve a role models to students?

  • I’m writing an “Open Letter” to NEA members protesting NEA’s support of the Common Core. I’m planning on quoting Mrs. E’s comment and part of Tyson’s. If there are any objections, please e-mail me at

  • Jim Perkins

    I was reading some of the common core “standards” and thinking of my seniors, my weaker seniors. Yes… yes… well, probably. Two dimension and three dimension Pythagorean Theorem, functions, simplifying radicals, bivariate statistics … Then I noticed that these were allegedly eighth grade standards.

    This is another farce. We will be tormented by hopelessly unrealistic goals, by endless remediation, and never-ending assessments, all for tasks that we can see from day one are not appropriate.

    I am not asserting that no eighth grader could do this work. I’ve taught eighth grade on both sides of the tracks. My weak twelfth graders can manage to pass work on most of these ideas, but the notion that all eighth graders will meet them would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.

    The problem is that the consultants were brought in and paid to implement the standards; who was ever asked to determine whether they were/are realistic?

  • Robert Dow

    We have always had standards! The question is, will we continue to defy human nature and expect that ALL students will meet ALL standards in the same amount of time (by the end of a certain grade). Will we continue to move students on to the next grade even if they have not met the standards of the previous grade? Will we continue to hold back those students who are ready to move on to higher standards before the time constraint we put on them (grades K-12)?

  • Sarah–What/Who is the NGA? I know the Gates Foundation, as much good as they do, are definitely not pro-teacher, but as always, the politics involved do not always show up front, what variables are involved and for what intent.
    I agree there is a lot of good in trying to simplify and standardize curricula, BUT, I also have lived the unrealistic goals and documentation overload/overkill that has sapped the very soul of our teaching workforce. It is criminal, and those in charge need to respond, but never will– We are headed for a true merging of business and education, with a gross national “product” of a “well educated” worker. We DO, absolutely need to re-structure our education system, and I would propose looking to the highly successful model of Finland, where the ratio of adult presence in the classroom is very high, the students get the extra help they need, and one teacher is not burnt to a crisp, but actually supported with lots of mentoring and manageable workloads.
    Great discussion fellow educators! I will pray for some sanity to rescue us, while planning for my escape into the non-profit world where I can continue to do good, but will not suffer the ravages of living the craziness and unrelenting, unrealistic demands made upon teachers today. We all need to stay informed and vote our way out as best we can against the rising tide of corporate involvement in education and the world. They have the money, we have the votes and manpower. God Help us All : )

  • felicia gauthier

    I am a parent of a second grade student in South Louisiana. I totally understand and support improvements in education to ensure our children will be able to meet real-world challenges they will face as they grow. However, after speaking to several other parents in my son’s class, I am experiencing a certain level of fear for my child. I accept some blame for not keeping abreast of the initiation of commom core standards. The parents were informed of the new program a month into this school year. I am now panicing and searching for answers to support my child in reaching the goals established in the program. My child has always maintained an “A” average, and now he is failing ELA, what used to be his favorite subject. Homework time has become a nightmare. He spends hours after school on homework and becomes very frustrated. His grandmother takes care of him after school and helps him with his homework. She is very frustrated and scared. She stated the information she needs to reinforce at home is extremely difficult and excessive. She feels ill prepared to help him. This is a common comment from other “A” student’s parents in his class. Now that I am aware of this new program, I will step up my game and I will find the additional help that has created for parents . I just feel betrayed because the parents were kept in the dark and were not educated on tools available to ensure a positive outcome for our children. I feel like my child has been set up to fail. I hate seeing him cry and say he is stupid now. When we made his “all about me bag” on the second day of school, he wrote the thing he like the most about himself was how smart he was. It breaks my heart that in just a matter of weeks, his sucess in school has plummeted. I am positive that with a little bit of research,education and involment on my part, he will benefit from this new initiative.

  • Mrs. C

    Everything I have read about CCSS says that active, working K-12 educators were not included in their development. Now I read this. Which is correct?

  • Mr. R

    Tinfoil Hat Alert:

    Common Core, as is Class Dojo are Agenda 21 vehicles, plain and simple. It is creeping globalist totalitarianism, just like the no child left behind and MCAS scams are. I am surprised so many in NEA are taking to this Orwellian centralized type control scheme. The NEOCON globalists began co-opting the new left back in the 1960’s. Weatherman revolutionary turned education expert, Bill Ayers of the University of Chicago and the Annenberg CPB Foundation as curious bedfellows are great examples of this. Old man Anneberg was a conservative republican, but his daughter Wallis is the bridge between the NEOCON and left that Bill Ayers crosses to do their bidding.Interestingly enough, Common Core’s Lynne Munson came from the American Enterprise Institute, a noted (NECON)conservative think tank, and the elitist National Endowment for the Humanities. It is also sponsored by Linda Gates. Bill and Linda Gates have joined forces with the big people who really run the world. The get to rub elbows with the Clinton’s, Bush’s, Rockefeller’s, Rothchild’s, Soro’s type folk. What they are planning is not in your best interest, nor your kids. When you have people from both the far left and far right crying fowl, you know something is rotten in Denmark!

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  • I agree with Mr. R. comment, wake up people, don’t be taken in by money, or you will pay in the end for your child. do your research on Bill Ayers and his croonies. Obama asked bill to help with changing the educational system. beware.

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