Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Next Steps for Common Core State Standards? It's All About the "How"

September 01, 2011

The Common Core State Standards have always been about states voluntarily working together. 

Their origin actually dates back nearly 10 years in the American Diploma Project and its work benchmarking state standards for college and career readiness. A few states started back then, and more states joined over time, engaging teachers, education experts, business leaders, and others to design clear and consistent benchmarks of what students need to learn in math and reading to be prepared to succeed in college and contemporary careers.

In 2008, Achieve released a report that found that 15 states essentially already had a common core of standards based on their work together and an emerging consensus on what constituted college readiness. 

The state-led effort and the quality of the product resulted in over 40 states and the District of Columbia voluntarily agreeing to adopt them. New videos about the Standards featuring co-author David Coleman, like the one below, do an excellent job showcasing the power and clarity of the standards, as do the National PTA’s parent guides.

Adoption of the standards was a huge achievement built on the hard work of hundreds of people over many years. And yet, that was the comparatively easy part. The tough next phase underway in states and districts is implementation — the development and widespread use of high quality materials and tools that bring the standards alive.  

The simplest distinction is this: standards are what kids need to know and be able to do.  Curriculum is how kids learn the standards. With broad adoption on the what embodied in the Core, there is huge opportunity now to innovate how.

Teachers and administrators will make those decisions – just as they do now.  But instead of great ideas happening only in single classrooms or even single states, great, effective approaches can be spread to countless other schools, districts, or states, benefiting many more students and teachers than they would in isolation. 

Standards are a critical first step to widespread, productive innovation, which will present opportunities to support teachers and improve student performance in unprecedented ways.

Consider technological advances in the last 20 years. The Internet was the private domain of universities and government; computers filled rooms, stereo equipment filled cabinets, and phones had landlines. The explosion of innovation on the internet occurred because of common standards or protocols – called TCP/IP. 

Today, we have the iPhone platform with over 425,000 third-party apps produced in the last three years alone; operating systems that allow people to exchange nearly 300 billion emails each day; and an Internet that enables us to watch in real-time as citizens rise up and demand their freedom in countries all across the globe.

All of these “platforms” were standards – a sweet spot of standardization that animated a rush of innovation that continues to fundamentally alter our world. It's the antithesis of “one-size-fits-all.”

This is what educational standards will enable as well; it is what the adoption has already started to inspire – the work of countless teachers, scholars, thinkers, entrepreneurs, and students building on this foundation to tap the best and create the new, to truly transform education for all children.  

 
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