Common Core is a set of learning standards voluntarily adopted by 45 states in attempt to ensure every state had similar and rigorous educational standards.

It was sponsored by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to establish consistent learning standards across the country back in 2007. In 2010, 45 states, including Missouri, fully adopted these standards designed to get grades K-12 students college and career ready.

“Every state had different tests and standards,” said Sarah Potter of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “The idea was to bring (tests and standards) together and make it more efficient.”

These unifying learning standards were a byproduct of educational initiatives from both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations over the last three decades. They were implemented by several state boards of education during President Obama’s first term.

After adopting Common Core standards, state boards of education individually set their statewide learning standards and tests. And now local districts have aligned their curricula to meet these new standards. So what are children learning in the classroom differently? Basically there are more math- and English-related lessons, say the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Eastern Jackson County school districts.

DESE will make the transition from its current Show-Me Standards to the new Missouri Learning Standards beginning next fall, and those standards will include the Common Core state standards, as well align with the former Show-Me standards.

Dissecting Common Core

Common Core’s key objectives are for all K-12 students in the nation to become better communicators and problem solvers by weaving English language arts and mathematics learning into all subjects taught in the classroom, Potter said.

These standards – or expectations of what a child is supposed to know or able to do in a specific grade level – are part of pre-existing state standards (in Missouri’s case, the new Missouri Learning Standards). Eastern Jackson County school districts or individual schools do not directly adopt Common Core into their curricula, but instead align their own to meet the Missouri Learning Standards. Common Core implementation is really a two-tiered adoption process.

“It’s a little of something in every area,” Potter said. “However, the standards are still the same in fine arts or other classes. Studies have shown that (teachers) spent very little time in math and English. Common Core narrows that focus on those two subjects that allow students to master them and build on prior knowledge.”

She also says emphasizing these two core subjects doesn’t necessarily mean extra class time is devoted to them exclusively, but that math and English can be found in all subjects.

“It’s not a time difference, but a baseline in a couple of subjects,” Potter said. “An example would be improving literacy in social sciences, like history.”

Here are some of the general Common Core standards in English:

• Demonstrating independence: Students can comprehend complex texts of many varieties.

• Valuing evidence: Students cite specific references when supporting their own points in writing or communicating.

• Understanding other perspectives and cultures: Students appreciate and understand they are in a 21st century classroom or workplace in which people with different backgrounds or cultures must work together.

Some selected general standards in math:

• Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them: Student will become proficient in explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and find entry points to its solution by analyzing constraints, relationships and goals.

• Model with mathematics: Students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising from everyday life, society and the workplace.

• Reason abstractly and quantitatively: Students will make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations.

• Attend to precision: Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They use clear definitions with others and in their own reasoning.

Along with these Common Core general standards, there are many other specific standards corresponding to the primary, intermediate and secondary education levels.

So, how does this affect lessons being taught in the classroom?

“They are proven to be more rigorous,” Potter said on the impact it has made statewide. “It expects more from students.”

“Common Core is raising standards somewhat for student learning,” writes Stephanie Smith, spokesperson for the Fort Osage School District. “There have been ‘shifts’ in our instruction, such as an increased emphasis on non-fiction texts. Common Core also shifted some skills in math to different grade levels, so there has been some rearranging of curriculum compared to before.”

Nancy Lewis, spokesperson for the Independence School District, wrote that its K-12 curricula hasn’t changed significantly due to the district being aligned with MSIP 5 standards, an accountability system under which DESE reviews every school district in the state annually.

But if Common Core wants every student to be on the same page, knowledge-wise, how does it accommodate students with learning disabilities or intellectual deficiencies? Common Core State Initiative literature says the standards do not define the intervention methods or material necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. It is ultimately up to either the district, school or teacher’s discretion on how they teach Common Core-oriented material to children with special needs.

“No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates and achievement levels of any students in any given classroom,” the CCSI literature says. CCSI also wrote that standards are not designed to tell a teacher how to teach their class.

Every Eastern Jackson County school district has a curriculum department to guide what’s taught in the classroom.

“Classroom teachers, often working together as grade level teams, design and implement lessons aligned to our (Fort Osage) district curriculum,” Smith wrote.

Tomorrow: Common Core’s reception from people and organizations inside and outside of education. Currently, some Missouri legislators are sponsoring legislation aimed at blocking Common Core from being implemented.