Common Core State Standards

  • Education
  • 2010

In 2008, a big effort to raise standards for English and math instruction and reduce the number of high-school graduates unprepared for college work was percolating through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Backers from the two groups asked Bill & Melinda Gates for help. They wanted to formulate intelligent, demanding benchmarks for what K-12 students should know, then advocate for their voluntary adoption by states, meanwhile building up the infrastructure of textbooks, teacher-training materials, new tests, and so forth that would be needed to help states meet such standards.

The Gates Foundation agreed to provide more than $200 million to help create what became known as the Common Core State Standards. Scores of other philanthropies also chipped in, including the Carnegie Corporation, the GE Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Broad, Hewlett, and Mott foundations, and local donors. The standards are not a course of study, but spell out competencies that each student should acquire at each grade level. For instance, the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up arguments they use in class. The math standards say students must learn differing ways to solve problems, and be able to explain how they got their answers. It is up to states and school districts to decide how best to teach and meet the standards.

Within two years of the Gates grant, 45 states had adopted the Common Core standards, and begun adjusting their course plans, instruction, and annual assessments. In August 2010, Kentucky became the first state to roll out new math and English curricula in its schools. Other regions followed.

End of year testing in some states made it clear that many students currently fall well short of the capacities defined as necessary under the Common Core, which caused backlashes from teachers and some parents. Other opponents expressed fears that the Common Core would nationalize education and reduce state and local control of schools. This was exacerbated by heavy-handed efforts by the Obama administration to push school districts to adopt the standards, a departure from the voluntary, private, grassroots model that got the standards rolling. In 2014, states that had signed on to the Common Core began to pull back from the standards and tests, making it unclear how common the Common Core will eventually be.