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4 Jul 2014

Understanding the Common Core State Standards

P. David Pearson & Elfrieda H. Hiebert

Book Chapter

Pearson, P.D., & Hiebert (2013). Understanding the Common Core State Standards. In L. Morrow, T. Shanahan, & K.K. Wixson (Eds.), Teaching with the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: What Educators Need to Know, Grades Pre-K-2 (pp. 1-21). New York, NY: Guilford Press.


Standards have become a staple of the American school and curriculum since they first entered the reform scene in the early 1990s. Conceived in the wake of the highly influential National Governors Conference of 1989—endorsed by conservatives, liberals, and radicals alike (albeit for vastly different reasons), and reformulated many times since their inception—schools, teachers, and students find their academic lives shaped by whatever standards hold court in their educational corner of the world. After the completely voluntary effort to produce national standards by the math community, the first major wave of standards was sponsored by federal and quasi-federal agencies, including the Office of Educational Research and Innovation (OERI) and the National Academy of Science, with the goal of encouraging disciplinary professions (e.g., History, English Language Arts, and Science) in the early 1990s to develop a clear statement of what students should know and be able to do at various developmental levels.   The idea was that, with broad agreement on these curricular outlines of the typical progression of student performance, assessments and curricular schemes could be developed and implemented that would guarantee that students would meet the benchmark performance standards along the journey to successful achievement and, eventually, participation in the world of work and higher education.   Students would go on to college and into the workplace armed with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be successful in their post-secondary lives.   That was the dream, the hope, and the expectation we began with in 1989.   And it was still the dream in the late 1990s when the Clinton administration undertook a valiant effort to ensure, via Title I (IASA), that all states had developed content standards and tests to measure their acquisition.

The Common State Core Standards (CCSS; Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010) represents the latest, and in many ways the most ambitious, version of that same vision of what standards could do for schools, teachers, and students.   What is most significant about the CCSS is that unlike the state action in response to IASA or NCLB, the CCSS effort was driven by the states, not a federal agency or even a federally sponsored initiative.   Initiated under the auspices of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), it is a bold attempt to ensure that at the end of the K-12 curricular journey, students were prepared to enter either college or the workforce and take their place as knowledgeable, contributing members of the American economy, society, and polity.   As a state-led initiative, the CCSS are intentionally designed to improve upon the current standards of individual states by creating clear, consistent, and rigorous standards to which all American students will be held, irrespective of the particular location of their residence. In short, opportunity to learn would not be an accident of a student’s “zip code”.