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Common Core State Standards Initiative

This article helps define the Common Core State Standards and the Common Core Standards Initiative. Learn what the purpose of the Common Core State Standards Initiative is and what States have adopted the standards. Also learn how Race to the Top initiatives influence these standards.

What are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards are an attempt to provide a unified, clear explanation of the material that students are expected to learn in K through 12 schooling so that students will have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college and the working world and so that parents and teachers will be able to determine how to help students achieve the stipulated understandings. In addition, with clearly enunciated standards, textbook publishers and other providers of instructional material can have a clear understanding of the criteria their products must meet for acceptance. The effort is in contrast to the diverse standards that have been (and still are, in some cases) held by the various states, making assessment of education quality across states challenging, as well as providing challenges for students who happened to move from state to state during their K through 12 years.

What Is the Common Core Standards Initiative?

The effort by the states to establish this unified set of standards is referred to as the Common Core Standards Initiative. The effort is meant to focus attention on the fact that the standards have been evolved by the states and are chosen (or not) for adoption by the states, to clearly separate this initiative from federal initiatives at unifying instruction, such as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001.

What Is the Purpose of the Standards?

The standards are the goals, the end points of learning.  The standards do not provide a curriculum. The curriculum is the means to achieving the standards and is developed at the state or local level.  An endless variety of curricula could lead to successful achievement of the standards.

Here's an illustration:

An English Language Arts (ELA) reading standard for literature for Grade 7 is:

"Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot)."

This is an instructional goal.  Students could learn to do this by:

  • Considering the role of the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz
  • Analyzing the importance of the characteristics of Camazotz, Ixchel, and Uriel, and the home of the Happy Medium in A Wrinkle in Time
  • Detailing the relationship of the Battle School and the Battle Room to other story elements in Ender's Game
  • Considering how the environment and plot interconnect in "The Most Dangerous Game"
  • Analyzing how the setting influences the plot in the narrative poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee"

 - and note that this very incomplete list of examples only focuses on setting: many other ways of reaching the goal could be amassed by choosing a different story element to focus on.

Where Have the Standards Been Adopted?

It is shorter to list the states and territories that have not yet adopted the Common Core State Standards than those who have.  Those who have not as of August, 2011 include:

  • Montana
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Alaska
  • Puerto Rico
  • Guam
  • American Samoa Islands
  • Northern Mariana Islands

All other states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted the standards.

You should note that while the development of the standards was funded by state education chiefs and governors, with notable support from some foundations, the federal government provided incentives to adopt the standards by offering competitive grants in a United States Department of Education initiative called Race to the Top. It was a successful tool of persuasion in encouraging states to adopt the Common Core Standards. The states and other entities that have been awarded grants include Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.  New York and Florida were the recipients of the largest grants ($700 million), which is reserved for the largest (most populous) states. 

Two rounds of submissions for awards were accepted and a large number of states did not submit grant applications in both cases. Eight states (including Texas and Alaska, which never submitted at all) did not submit applications in the first round.  Eleven states (including Texas and Alaska) did not submit in the second round (nor did Tennessee and Delaware, which had already received grants).  Of those states that only submitted one application, only Maryland received an award.