Common Core State Standards
Standards-based education grew out of two major national concerns in the early 1990s: that students in the United States would not be able to compete in a global economy; and that we still had an intolerable achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.
Over the past few years, states have worked to develop their individual state standards but the result of these independent efforts has been 51 benchmarks of varying content and quality. As stated by Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, in a Washington Post OpEd piece:
Imagine the outrage if, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to move the ball the full 10 yards for a first down during the Super Bowl while the Arizona Cardinals had to go only seven. Imagine if this scenario were sanctioned by the National Football League. Such a system would be unfair and preposterous. But there is little outrage over the uneven patchwork of academic standards for students in our 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Abundant evidence suggests that common, rigorous standards lead to more students reaching higher levels of achievement. The AFT has, since 1995, tracked each state's progress toward establishing standards that meet our characteristics of strong academic content standards. While we have documented some great improvements over the years, much more work lies ahead.
In fact, countries that consistently outperform the United States on international assessments do not have multiple sets of standards the way we do. Instead, they all have a common set of standards. So, perhaps a good place to start would be revisiting the issue of national standards. This concept is not new to AFT. As early as 1992, when the standards movement was just gathering steam, the AFT passed a resolution addressing national standards, which stated:
...research and the experience of other nations indicate that having clear and high content and performance standards for students, basing curriculum and assessments on those standards, providing the resources that schools and teachers need to help students meet high standards, and motivating students to work hard on their studies are the hallmarks of successful education systems.
In the process of developing common standards, state and local education authorities should not lose all say on curriculum and teachers should not be forced to provide instruction in a scripted, lock-step manner, unable to tailor lessons or draw on their own expertise. Education is a local issue, but there is a body of knowledge about what children should know and be able to do that should guide decisions about curriculum and testing. A broad-based group—made up of educators, elected officials, community leaders, and experts in pedagogy and particular content should work together to take the best academic standards and make them available to all states. Teachers then would need the professional development, and the teaching and learning conditions to make the expectations of those standards a reality.
Over the years, the AFT has adopted a few resolutions in support of standards outlining what we believe to be characteristics of quality standards and a comprehensive standards-based system. Between 2009 and 2010, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort led by National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers developed the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics and English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science & Technology. The AFT supported the initiative from the beginning and put together a teacher review team to participate in the development of the standards. The standards were released in the summer of 2010 and were quickly adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
In 2010, Randi Weingarten created the AFT Ad Hoc Committee on Standards Rollout. This committee, made up of AFT state and local presidents, higher education representatives, state education issues coordinators and classroom teachers, met with the writers of the standards, representatives of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced assessment consortia and other experts to developed recommendations for the appropriate rollout of the CCSS. These recommendations were adopted as a resolution on May 19, 2011.