November 1, 2014

Guest Column: What is the Common Core?

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By Armando Vilaseca

Vermont, along with 44 other states, adopted a common set of educational standards called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which will be used to articulate what we expect our students to know and demonstrate in grades Pre-K to 12. Vermont’s current Framework of Standards has been in place for more than a decade and has served us well. As society’s needs change and the expectations for schools change, our standards must also be adjusted.

CCSS provide all of the participating states a common platform to build their local curricula. It’s important to point out that the local schools and teachers still decide how they want to teach and what curriculum they use; the standards provide the schools and teachers with a framework. These standards are an evolution of our current standards and are written to prepare all students to be “college and career ready” by the time they graduate from high school. Vermont played an active role in the adoption of these standards as former Governor James Douglas (then chair of the National Governors Association) worked with President Obama to initiate this work. Vermont has experience working across state lines, as it was a founding member of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP); we collaborated with New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island to develop rigorous common standards and uniform assessments. Our New England experience was used as a model for the CCSS.

For many years, as a Vermont educator, I could never understand why as a nation we had fifty sets of standards, and why each state had different sets of goals for their students to meet. I understand and support the concept of states’ rights, but this idea no longer makes sense when we have become such a mobile and transient society. Often, these moves mean students miss information or have lessons repeated because of the incongruence of our state standards. Additionally, the assessments aligned to these standards are used to compare states even though the standards have varying levels of difficulty.

Recently, there has been much discussion at the local and state level about the adoption of these new standards. The CCSS were written by states for states to meet our country’s needs in the future, and are not federal standards. Some will argue that these standards are not needed, or are not rigorous enough, or are too rigorous, or are being driven by foundations or big monies. It is true that many national organizations have supported the writing of these standards, but it was not the big corporations driving the decision to adopt the standards, rather it was our states that led this charge.

Vermont was involved in developing these standards and we have also been instrumental in working on the assessment that will measure our new standards. Vermont and our bordering New England states have all been actively engaged in this work, we all see this as the logical evolution of our current standards.

You may have heard arguments against these standards by an array of individuals and groups. Are these standards perfect? No, but they are an improvement from our current standards. These standards are more reflective of Vermont’s and our country’s needs, both now and in the future. Working among states requires some collaboration and compromise. It is a testament to our governors and our states’ educational leaders to have come up with such a forward thinking concept. I applaud the legislators and state boards of education for supporting and adopting these new standards when our political process in Washington seems paralyzed by partisan gridlock.

Gov. Shumlin and I have advocated for raising math and science graduation requirements for some time—doing so will align our graduation requirements with these new standards.

For many of you, this information is new and I hope that it has been helpful in providing you some perspective on what the Common Core is and why it is important not only to Vermont but for our entire country.

Armando Vilaseca is Vermont’s secretary of education. He lives in Westford.

 
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