Skip to Content

Getting to the Core of Common Core

Change is hard – not necessarily bad

By Dennis Van Roekel
January 7, 2013

As we get closer to Common Core State Standards implementation, some of the buzz is quickly turning to widespread anxiety. The most recent accusation: Common Core English standards will crowd literature out of the curriculum, replacing To Kill a Mockingbird with federal EPA pamphlets about insulation. Separating fact from fiction – like Common Core calls for the death of literature – has become the latest education pastime.

Change is hard. And a healthy dose of skepticism may be in order, especially when the stakes are so high. But as a general rule, doomsday scenarios rarely materialize.

NEA has been working to ensure educator input throughout the development and implementation of the standards. As an early partner of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, we provided support for common standards and opportunities for our members to provide specific feedback on the standards themselves. We believe this state-led initiative has the potential to provide teachers with manageable curriculum goals and more freedom to exercise professional judgment in planning and instruction.

Unlike too many education policy initiatives, teacher input was critical to developing CCSS. Its purpose is to provide a consistent, clear and concise understanding of what students are expected to learn, no matter where they live, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. Common Core is also designed to be much more rigorous than many states’ current standards and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers.

CCSS offers a vivid, practical example of NEA's Leading the Professions initiative, a three-part plan to transform the teaching profession and accelerate student learning. Educators will have the opportunity to translate these broad standards into creative, relevant, and engaging class lessons that help students learn in new ways that truly prepare them for lifelong learning. This is not to downplay anyone wrestling with doubt about Common Core – states will struggle, some educators will chafe – but as long as we can accept this, and embrace the transition, educators and public education can come out ahead.

Core Knowledge's Robert Pondiscio posed an intriguing proposition worth pondering:

“All I want for Christmas is for Common Core critics, rather than retailing scare stories that CCSS will replace literature with readings of government reports on agriculture and insulation regulations in English class, to temper their criticism even a little bit with an acknowledgement that maybe a coherent, content-rich curriculum (which CCSS does not, cannot mandate but strongly recommends) might not be the worst thing to happen to our schools.”

More Columns by Former NEA President Dennis Van Roekel