What is Common Core?


We know that opinions and experiences with Common Core vary widely.  In this series, our contributor is sharing his thoughts on Common Core.  Please note that his opinions and thoughts do not necessarily reflect Cincinnati Moms Blog’s opinions as a whole.  We welcome productive and respectful conversation from our readers on this subject in both the comments section below as well as on our Facebook page.

CC2To read the introduction to this series, click here.

In my multi-part series on this hot educational topic, perhaps the best place to start is putting together a definition and explanation as to what the Common Core State Standards are.  There is a lot of debate out there on this particular subject, but the reality is that this is a really easy question to answer.

One of my biggest fears when I started down the path of teacher education was, ‘How will I know what to teach?’  I learned fairly quickly that the answer is that State Standards are what teachers use to determine what needs to be taught.

At some point, it was decided that teachers needed a series of guidelines in order to provide a more consistent and stable learning experience for students.  If School A is teaching a whole bunch of things, and School B is teaching things that are completely different, than a student who may need to transfer from School A to School B is in a lot of trouble.  If the students from School A and School B move up into the same high school, then those high school teachers have a huge mess on their hands.

As a result, state school boards around the country developed detailed lists of things that teachers should be teaching in their classroom, and things that students should have knowledge of by the time they complete each grade.  This list of skills and abilities are known as State Standards.

For the longest time, each of our fifty states had their own set of educational standards, and for every set of standards there was a state-wide assessment used to measure how well teachers were teaching those standards, and how well students were learning the skills.  My first year as a teacher, my school used the Ohio State Standards.  For reading, each grade level had somewhere between 80 and 100 different skills or tasks that students who performed on grade level should be able to do.  Each of the other subject areas would have their own list, though perhaps not quite as extensive.

Now, I will explain the reasons behind the shift from Ohio State Standards to Common Core standards in the near future, but for now it is important to understand that the system that was in place was not presenting the types of growth and gains we want and need for our students. With the United States slipping lower and lower on the lists of academic ability a change was needed.

The State of Ohio could have sat down and created an entire new list of standards, or revamped the one they already had.  At the same time, many other states were experiencing the exact same issues and a consortium of people decided that perhaps the most simple and effective approach to revamping education (whether we agree with the outcome or not) was to create a unified set of standards.  The goal was to make something that would work for every kid, in every state, would facilitate growth, and would help schools across the country provide students with consistency and quality.
This is why the Common Core was created.

So, in the most simple of terms, The Common Core is a list of things that teachers should be teaching, and that students should be learning.

There are many differences between the former Ohio State Standards and the Common Core, though at its heart they cover a lot of the same ground.
One of the most noticeable differences is that there are significantly fewer Common Core Standards than there were Ohio Standards.  This is because, while Ohio Standards presented a very straight forward list of the skills students needed to master, the Common Core combines ideas and one standard (or indicator) covers a lot more ground.  So instead of a standard for capital letters, a standard for periods, a standard for commas, a standard for spelling, the Common Core bundles them together into standard “CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L12A” (The naming conventions are a little wacky), which says:

“Students should be able to demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”

A second important difference is that with the former Ohio State Standards, skills and topics would disappear and reappear from year to year.  So one year you would have standards about poetry, and the next year those standards would be replaced with something else.  Two years later, poetry standards would reappear.  With the Common Core, the standards from Kindergarten, all the way to 8th grade are directly related to each other.  Each of the following examples is a variation on the ability for a student to read something, and answer a question about what they just read.

So in Kindergarten, students might be asked to, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.K.1

“With Prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.”

In second grade, the same indicator (look at the similarity in the standard’s names) CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.1, students are asked to

“Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.” 

The fifth grade version, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.1 asks students to

“Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.” 

And finally in 8th grade, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.1 wants students to

“Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”

Every single reading standard, in every category, in every grade level is leveled the exact same way.  What this means is, instead of teaching things to students as if it is the first time they ever saw something, teachers and consistently build on the things teachers taught in years previous.

The other big difference between the former Ohio State Standards and the Common Core standards, is the level of depth they go into. The way I explain it to my student is this; The Ohio standards were concerned with what students knew.  Can they identify a subject, can they identify a predicate?  Do they know who the protagonist is?  The Common Core typically asks students to know what something is, but also to be able to demonstrate an understanding of the concept.  So the Common Core wants students to demonstrate that they know what a subject is, as well as what makes it a subject. Can they show what a predicate is, and why it is a predicate?  Can they not only point out the protagonist, but explain why the author chose this character to be the protagonist of this story?

When you look at what the Common Core Standards are objectively, a different type of story is painted than the one that many politicians and bloggers are trying to portray.  Next time we will look at the why behind the Common Core and then finally what the Common Core isn’t, and look at some of the arguments against it.

The TLDR Version: The Common Core Standards are lists of things that teachers should be teaching in their classrooms, and that students should be learning.  They are organized in such a way that allows students to build academic ability over time.  Not only does this last ask that students know things, but also requires them to explain and demonstrate their understanding of a skill or concept.

Look for more to come in this series about the Common Core on Cincinnati Moms Blog through the month of November.


  1. This is great! Thank you for taking the time to educate people who want to have an opinion on the issue but may not know the ins and outs of what teachers are actually supposed to accomplish in the classroom. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have on a day-to-day basis explaining the Common Core and the value of higher order thinking over simple recall tasks.


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