Common Core Myth Busters

Pro PIO Hint: Myths are a set of stories about how the world ought to be.  Myths are hard to discredit because they deal with belief, not fact.  Myths currently surrounding the Common Core State Standards at some levels are tied to much larger issues facing our nation; issues such as the overall role of national government, and the approaches and decisions of our current elected leadership (“too much government,” etc.).

The PR Pro knows to take the high ground, keep emotion out of the discussion and stick with the facts. It will be very hard to change the minds of your constituents who already are invested in opposing Common Core State Standards. Your goal is not to seek confrontation, but rather to be the one who gets fact-based messages out first to your parents and community. Then, reinforce the facts every chance you get.

To best use the following “Myth Busters,” first find out what myths may be circulating in your community. We advise you to present the Common Core information in small bites, and then repeat the same information multiple times through different mediums.Target your early messages to your stakeholders who “get it”…and who most need factual information to use with their peer groups.

It is also effective to use the facts as DID YOU KNOW? questions, sprinkled individually throughout a variety of publications.

We share below a selection of myths currently surrounding Common Core State Standards. The responses can be corroborated at the national websites for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center).

Myth: Common Core is a national curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is not a curriculum.It is a clear set of shared goals and expectations, based on independent research and professional experience, that define the knowledge and skills students need to master to be prepared for college or the workforce. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be taught and will establish the curriculum, just as they do now. Teachers will continue to create lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.

NOTE: Because the “national curriculum” myth is included regularly in Common Core questions and criticism, a more detailed response follows.

Common Core State Standards is not a national curriculum. It is not even a curriculum.

A curriculum is the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school to cover a particular subject area. School curriculum defines the specific course of study—the scope and sequence--that will enable students to meet that district’s education standards.

A standard is something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example. Standards in education spell out what students should know and be able to do at the end of a year.

Common Core State Standards are the sets of knowledge and skills students should know, and be able to use in a productive way, at the end of their grade or at graduation.

Standards do not tell a state what to teach, nor micromanage a teacher’s classroom. Standards are a guide that helps everyone (student, teacher, parents, community, state) know exactly what students are expected to know, grade level by grade level. At graduation, meeting these standards will set students on a path to be successful in their career or in doing college-level work.

There are many possible curricula schools could use that would lead students to meet the Common Core State Standards. Today, 46 states have currently adopted the Standards. Each one of those states can add up to 15% of its own standards to individualize learning to the needs of that specific state. This is why you will see more classroom research in one state, or a specific kind of literature taught in another. Some states may choose to add more math. States and local districts will still control their curriculum choices.

The development, adoption and implementation of the CCSS have shown an unprecedented level of coordination between K-12 and higher education systems. As a result, students will know, while still in high school, whether or not they have the skills required to take entry-level general education college courses without needing remediation.

Myth: The Common Core State Standards are not research or evidence based.
The Standards have made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence. The evidence base includes scholarly research; surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs; assessment data identifying college‐and career‐ready performance; and comparisons to standards from high‐performing states and nations.

In English Language Arts, the Standards build on the firm foundation of the NAEP frameworks in Reading and Writing, which draw on extensive scholarly research and evidence.

In Mathematics, the Standards draw on conclusions from the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) and other studies of high‐performing countries that conclude the traditional U.S. mathematics curriculum must become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement.  This approach addresses directly ineffective curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Myth: The Standards are not internationally benchmarked.
International benchmarking played a significant role in both sets of Standards (English Language Arts and Math). In fact, the college and career ready standards include an appendix listing the evidence that was consulted in drafting the Standards and the international data consulted in the benchmarking process is included in this appendix. More evidence from international sources will be presented together with the final draft.

Myth: No teachers were involved in writing the Standards.
The Common Core State Standards drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. In addition, there were many state experts who came together to create a thoughtful and transparent process of standard setting. This was only made possible by many states working together, in a grass-roots, state-initiated effort.

Myth: The Standards tell teachers what to teach.
The best understanding of what works in the classroom comes from teachers. That’s why these standards will establish what students need to learn, but they will not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students achieve the Standards.

Myth:  The Common Core State Standards will not benefit teachers, students or parents.
The real beneficiaries of the CCSS are teachers, parents and students who will have a consistent, clear understanding of what teachers are expected to teach and what students are expected to learn.

This clear understanding will inform teacher preparation programs and provide teachers entering the profession the opportunity to learn specific teaching strategies mapped to standards that their students will need to master -- whether they teach in Maine or California.  Once in the classroom, teachers will have the ability to share information and best practices with colleagues in other states, as well as to participate in professional development opportunities focused on ways to help all students meet and exceed the standards.

More consistent standards will permit greater opportunities to compare outcomes from district to district and state to state.  These will provide a clearer picture of how our students are faring in preparation for the global educational and business environment of the 21st Century.

Consistent standards also will reduce many problems associated with student mobility.  Transferring between schools, districts or states often means lost learning time as students acclimate to the new education setting. Common, high-quality reference points that define expectations across state lines and grade levels will eliminate this all-too-common problem.

Myth: The Standards will be implemented through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - signifying the federal government will be leading them.

The Common Core academic standards are a state-led effort, coordinated by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSO).  The standards have no connection to No Child Left Behind. States began the work in 2008 to create clear, consistent standards before the Recovery Act or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint were released because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government.  

The effort was formally launched in spring 2009.  To date, 46 states have adopted the Common Core.  No state has been required to join the Common Core and nothing prevents a state from deciding to leave the Common Core at any point. In short, the Common Core is a voluntary association of states committed to improving the rigor of education provided to their states’ children.  It has bipartisan support.

The NGA Center and CCSSO are offering extensive support for Common Core by developing a “State Policymaker Guide to Implementation,” facilitating opportunities for collaboration among organizations working on implementation, planning the future governance structure of the Standards, and convening the publishing community to ensure that high-quality materials, aligned with the Standards, are created.

Myth: The federal government will take over ownership of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The federal government will not govern the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Initiative was, and will remain a state-led effort. NGA and CCSSO are committed to developing a long-term governance structure with leadership from governors, chief state school officers, and other state policymakers.

Myth: The Common Core changes everything in education.
Common Core will push many educators and students out of traditional comfort zones.  The expectations for learning are greater than they have been before, because the need for accomplished learners is that much greater.  However, classrooms fundamentally will not change.  Teachers will not become inhibited by restrictive practices; in fact, they will have more freedom than ever to go into greater depth on fewer topics and to use new teaching techniques.  The best in education will stay the same.  Teachers and students clearly will know what is expected of them to be successful.  Parents will notice the learning is more relevant to the needs of their children.  The community will enjoy graduates who are able to take their place in the workforce, or go on to success in college and beyond.

Myth: Common Core will “fix” our education system.
Common Core is not the magic bullet that will fix everything in education. No one thing ever is. The United States education system isn’t “broken” as much as it may be outdated and mediocre.  The Standards are helping us rectify the academic challenges facing students by raising the expectations of what they need to know and complete during their K-12 experience.  High expectations and academic rigor should not be confused with creating impossible tasks for students.  Our students can achieve at higher levels if the expectations are clear, materials are readily available and teachers have the tools and support to accommodate individual learning.

Myth: The Common Core effort will establish federal and mandatory standards for American K-12 schools.
The Common Core recommendations are placed deliberately at the discretion of state-level policymakers to either join or withdraw from participation.  It is important to note the federal government was NOT involved in the development of the Standards.

Myth: Common Core State Standards are not any better than existing state standards.
A highly-regarded Thomas B. Fordham Institute study (2010) confirmed that Common Core State Standards are superior to standards currently in use in 39 states in math and 37 states in English. For 33 states, the new standards are superior in both math and reading.

Myth: States’ current standards are sufficient for today’s students.
According to analysis by ACT, three-fourths of young men and women entering college “were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.”

Myth: State tests aren’t broken. Common Core should not try to fix them.
A 2009 study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found no state had reading proficiency standards as rigorous as those on the highly respected and internationally benchmarked NAEP 4th grade exam. Only one state, Massachusetts, had an 8th grade test as rigorous as the NAEP exam. Worse still, a large number of states had reading proficiency standards that would qualify their students as functionally illiterate on NAEP.

Myth: Common Core State Standards dictate what curriculum districts offer and what texts teachers will use for instruction.
Local teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards will continue to make decisions about curriculum and how their school systems are operated.

Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not define what teachers should teach or how students should learn. Decisions on texts and teaching materials remain at the district level.

Myth: The federal government will use Common Core State Standards to usurp control from states.
The Common Core State Standards are the result of state leadership. States recognized the need for more rigorous standards, led the development, and will retain full authority for implementing the Standards in their respective states.

Myth: Common Core State Standards will stifle innovation and creativity in state curriculum.
Common standards will allow for more innovation, more varied examples and more options for curriculum innovation. States can customize ABOVE the Standards.

Myth: Common Core State Standards will cost more by requiring states to spend for training, tests, etc.
Every state currently spends time and money creating, revising and implementing standards on its own.  By working together, states won’t duplicate efforts, which will be more efficient.  States that have adopted the CCSS will benefit from shared tools and practices, including professional development designed to support teachers, and formative/interim assessments that can immediately inform instructional decision-making.  Common Core State Standards should drive down costs in the long run as publishers focus on more creativity and tools for teachers centered on common standards.

Myth: Adopting common standards will bring all states’ standards down to the lowest common denominator.
The Standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college and their careers. This will result in moving even the best state standards to the next level. In fact, since this work began, there has been an explicit agreement that no state would lower its standards. The Standards were informed by the best education-based leaders in the country, the highest international standards, and evidence and expertise about educational outcomes.

Myth: The Standards only include skills and do not address the importance of content knowledge.
The Standards recognize that both content and skills are important.
In English Language Arts, the Standards require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

In mathematics, the Standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically. The Standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, not by piling topic upon topic, but by demanding that students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.

Myth: Current standards sufficiently provide students with the English language arts skills they will need to succeed.
Today, the most popular forms of writing in high school are based on a student’s experiences and opinions. Students spend a lot of time sharing what they think and feel. Common Core State Standards shift the focus from developing a response based on feeling to developing a response based on an objective analysis of evidence. Employers are most likely to hire someone based on their ability to clearly convey complex information, draw conclusions and make recommendations based on facts, not feelings.

Myth: The English language arts standards (ELA) require more non-fiction reading.  This mean we aren’t teaching literature anymore.
The Common Core does not say to get rid of literature and only read non-fiction. It says: throughout the day, an elementary student should read non-fiction 50% of the time; a middle school student should read non-fiction 60% of the time; and a secondary student should read non-fiction 70% of the time.  

The key here is throughout the entire day. The larger challenge comes when we realize that the only place students are reading beyond textbooks is the ELA classroom.  The responsibility for literacy lies with the entire school building.

Myth: The Standards suggest teaching “Grapes of Wrath” to second graders.
The ELA Standards suggest “Grapes of Wrath” as a text that would be appropriate for 9th or 10th grade readers. Evidence shows that the complexity of texts students are reading today does not match what is demanded in college and the workplace, creating a gap between what high school students can do and what they need to be able to do. The Common Core State Standards create a staircase of increasing text complexity, so that students develop their ELA skills and apply them to more and more complex texts.

Myth: Current standards sufficiently provide students with the math skills they will need.
Massachusetts’ students rank first in the U.S. in math. Hong Kong’s students rank first in the world. The best in our country do not come CLOSE to matching the best in the world.  On the Hong Kong test, 87% of the questions require a higher level of thinking, compared to just 6% of questions on the Massachusetts test.

These figures express how behind we are. Common Core State Standards focus on more in-depth knowledge of foundational and crucial concepts for more advanced mathematics, rather than an expansive, but shallow, knowledge of many concepts. This new, more concise approach eliminates the “mile-wide, inch-deep” curriculum in America.

Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies materials.
With the Common Core ELA Standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non‐fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.

Myth: The Standards do not prepare or require students to learn Algebra in the 8th grade, as many states’ current standards do.
The Standards do accommodate and prepare students for Algebra 1 in 8th grade, by including the prerequisites for this course in grades K‐7. Students who master the K‐7 material will be able to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade. At the same time, grade 8 standards are also included; these include rigorous algebra and will transition students effectively into a full Algebra 1 course.

Myth: Key math topics are missing or appear in the wrong grade.
The mathematical progressions presented in the Common Core are coherent and based on evidence.

Part of the problem with having 50 different sets of state standards is that today, different states cover different topics at different grade levels. Coming to consensus guarantees that from the viewpoint of any given state, topics will move up or down in the grade level sequence. This is unavoidable. What is important to keep in mind is that the progression in the Common Core State Standards is mathematically coherent and leads to college and career readiness at an internationally competitive level.

Myth: The Standards are just vague descriptions of skills; they don’t include a reading list or any other similar reference to content.
The Standards do include sample texts that demonstrate the level of text complexity appropriate for the grade level and compatible with the learning demands set out in the Standards. The exemplars of high quality texts at each grade level provide a rich set of possibilities and have been very well received. This provides teachers with the flexibility to make their own decisions about what texts to use – while providing an excellent reference point when selecting their texts.