Common Core Strives for Universal U.S. Education Standards

Common Core

In his 1997 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton said: “Every state should adopt high national standards, and by 1999, every state should test every 4th grader in reading and every 8th grader in math to make sure these standards are met.”

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. It would take years for a set of standards to come into place, and even today, not all states have adopted Common Core curriculum specifications in primary and secondary schools.

Standards and Accountability Movement

Starting in the 1980s, a group of experts headed by then-Secretary of Education Terrell Bell created a report on the quality of education in the United States. Titled “A Nation at Risk,” the document prescribed a common core curriculum as the antidote to the nation’s education troubles.


By 1990, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40 percent of high school graduates were meeting the core curriculum requirements referenced in “A Nation At Risk.” After attending the National Education Summit in Charlottesville, Va., with a young Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton, President George H.W. Bush announced a series of education goals in his 1990 State of the Union address. The proposal was dubbed, “America 2000,” since the effort was to reach certain objectives by the first year in the new century.

After Bill Clinton took office in 1992, he carried on Bush’s “America 2000” plan, creating his own called “Goals 2000,” a bill that mandated the construction of the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC), which would have authority over state education standards. Republican Congress opposed “Goals 2000” based on the idea of a strengthened federal role in regard to education.

Shortly after coming into office in 2001,  President George W. Bush proposed and signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to develop assessments in basic skills, with each state developing its own set of standards. In 2004, a group of bipartisan governors and business leaders called Achieve launched the American Diploma Project, which published “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” a report that devalued the worth of an American diploma. Along with the drive from No Child Left Behind, this report helped to propel the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The Common Core Standards Formation

Janet Napolitano, the 2006–07 chair of the National Governors Association, a bipartisan organization of the nation’s governors, wrote an initiative that strongly targeted boosting math and science education. This culminated in the creation of a task force that would build the Common Core State Standards when the NGA released a December 2008 report that urged states to take the next steps in ensuring standards-based education.


With the momentum of this report, the National Governors Association, which included future College Board president David Coleman, announced its education initiative in 2009, a campaign set out to provide more clarity on what students are expected to learn and how teachers, parents, and guardians can help them achieve these goals. The federal government was not involved with the development of these standards, and starting in 2010, each state made the decision whether or not to embrace the Common Core Standards.

Common Core Curriculum

English language arts and math are the two focus areas in K-12 Common Core education because these subjects overlap the most with other subjects. Students must learn to read, write, speak, and listen in a wide variety of areas, just as math is often a building block of many subjects.

Common Core Reading

These are the key design considerations when it comes to English language arts:

  • Standards are aimed at individual grade levels for kindergarten through 8th grade; 9th and 10th are banded together, as are 11th and 12th grades.
  • A stress on results rather than means, which allows teachers to be free to provide their own unique teaching tools and skills to the curriculum.
  • Many different forms of communication are taught.
  • With the communication skills they gain, students need to be able to comprehend and come to conclusions.
  • Every teacher has a responsibility in literacy development, not just those teaching courses in reading, writing, etc.
  • Multiple standards don’t each have to have a separate focus. They can blend together.

Common Core Math

These are the key design considerations when it comes to mathematics:

  • Students should make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Students should use reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Students should construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Students should be able to apply mathematics to everyday problems.
  • Students should use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Students should be precise, coming up with clear definitions when discussing their own reasoning.
  • Students should be able to look for and make use of different structures and patterns.
  • Students should look for general methods and shortcuts.

Pros and Cons of Common Core

Bench-marked standards to compare to other countriesDifficult transition for students and teachers
Similar standards and assessments allow for more accurate state comparisons.More teacher and administrator pressure and burnout
Decrease cost for test development, since each state has the same testsVague and broad standards
Should add rigor to the classroomNo equivalency test for students with special needs
The development of higher-level thinking skillsMany states with already high academic standards may be lowered since CC aims to find a common ground in terms of academics.
CCSS allows teachers to monitor progress throughout the year.Many current textbooks could be obsolete.
Students that move from state to state will be able to work from the same set of standards.Common Core Standards will cost schools money in terms of updating technology and books.
The hope is for students to have a better understanding of what they’re supposed to learn.Increased value on standardized test performance
Enhanced teacher collaboration across states and curriculumsThe focus is only on English language arts and math.

The Bottom Line

Common Core Standards are highly debated, especially as implementation continues to spread across the United States. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, but in 2014, Indiana withdrew from the Common Core. The non-member states include Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.

To figure out what your state’s standards are, visit the Common Core Standards website, which highlights standards by state.