What exactly is Common Core?

We all have heard about this education buzzword at one time or another the past couple of years, but how does it affect our children’s learning in the classroom?

Specifically, how does it affect schools in Eastern Jackson County?

Common Core is a nationwide initiative that focuses on teaching English language arts and mathematics to the K-12 grade levels. It consists of learning standards – descriptions of what children are expected to know and able to do at a corresponding grade level – that have been adopted by 45 states so far, including Missouri. How it trickles down and changes what a child learns in a local classroom is really a two-step process, explained Sarah Potter of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The State Board of Education is in charge of creating or setting the (learning) standards in the state,” Potter said. “In turn, districts across the state write curricula and purchase textbooks that align with these standards.”

In this three-part series, The Examiner will explalin the changes Common Core brings to local classrooms, as well as its controversy.


According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative web page, the standards are made to be robust and relevant in the real world. In essence, Common Core’s aim is to make students all across the country more college and career ready.

But its coming into existence wasn’t just a recent development as many state education officials and governors were pushing for a reform that would decrease the gap among different state standards since the 1980s.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed the National Commission on Excellence in Education to report on America’s public education system. It subsequently produced a report entitled, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform.” The publication asserted that American schools were failing, citing academic under-achievement at both the national and international levels. “Nation at Risk” also called for monitoring students’ progress through (state) standardized tests.

As the decades past, new education reforms devised under both Democratic and Republican administrations eventually led to the formation of Common Core. In 1994, the Clinton administration enacted both Educate America Act and Improving America’s Schools Act that required states to set standards and issue tests. And in 1996 during the National Education Summit, governors and business leaders pledged to work together to raise achievement and standards in public schools. As a result, a non-profit organization named Achieve was founded. The non-partisan group would become an influence in the creation of Common Core.

Later in 2001, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to set standards and issue assessments to students in specific grade levels and subjects in order to be eligible for federal funding. The act, however, did not set a national education standard.

Five years later during the National Governor’s Association conference, a council of state school officers came together to discuss rewriting standards to form a baseline of English and math learning, says Potter.

“Every state had different tests and standards,” Potter said. “The idea was to bring them (tests and standards) together and make it more efficient. That was pretty much how it (Common Core) happened.

The Missouri State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010. However, all of the 45 states in the nation, including Missouri, that adopted Common Core standards did so voluntarily, said Elle Moxley, a Lee's Summit native who covers Common Core for National Public Radio.

“... I think it’s important to distinguish between standards that were voluntary for states to adopt (Common Core) versus a federal mandate,” Moxley wrote on whether states were mandated by the federal government to implement Common Core. She also pointed out the difference between standards and curriculum.

“Curriculum is more specific – it’s how teachers deliver standards in the classroom. So two teachers could have very different curricula to teach the same standards.”

NPR’s Elle Moxley and Molly Bloom of StateImpact Ohio contributed to this report.

- Minor corrections to this article were made March 4.