A few years ago and in my early time as North Carolina’s State Superintendent, I met with at least 45 of my state superintendent colleagues in Chicago to talk about how all of us could work together to determine what students should know and be able to do in mathematics and English language arts as result of going to school for 13 years, kindergarten through 12th grade. We decided that one of the best things we could do to save our states’ money, share materials, and to ensure that our students, regardless of where they live, would be prepared was to work together on common standards that could capitalize on the best thinking in these two foundation subjects.
As a result of that meeting, we asked some of the brightest minds in mathematics and English language arts to identify what students should know and be able to do. That work is now the Common Core state standards. The work went through many drafts before it was completed. In fact, in North Carolina teachers, business people, and citizens gave feedback to these drafts, and we made changes to improve the initial ideas. That same process also happened in the other states. Then the NC State Board of Education adopted those standards in 2010, and the new standards – along with North Carolina-developed new standards in all other subjects – were implemented last fall in classrooms across the state.
What do the standards include? They include items that will probably be familiar to most of us in some way. For example, the math standards state that all students should be able to add, subtract, multiply, divide, do fractions, percentages, algebra, geometry, functions, and statistics. In addition, students are expected to be able to apply that knowledge in real-world situations. In English language arts, the standards balance the traditional focus on literature with a stronger emphasis on reading technical and informational text. I encourage you to go to our website to read what students are expected to learn at www.ncpublicschools.org/curriculum/ .
What are the benefits to this new standard course of study that so many states came together to build? For students who move from state to state, especially students in military families, this means that they will not be making tricky transitions when they leave one state and enter school in a new state. It means that states can share instructional resources and that textbook and other educational resource publishers will not need to tailor special editions of their materials for each state.
There are some who are making wild claims about the Common Core and what it is. I can tell you, because I was there at its very beginning, that it is not an effort that the federal government directed. I was there and was a part of the work so I have first-hand knowledge of the truth. This work, this new set of standards, is an attempt to bring together the best thinking about math and English language arts standards and to bring some uniformity to these two basic curriculum areas.
Take a look for yourself. The Common Core is math and language arts. It’s fewer standards that provide teachers with more opportunity to dig deeply into core subject areas so that they can help students learn the key facts and skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.
June St. Clair Atkinson