Common Core: Take a Deep Breath

Editors’ note: This archival resource article was developed and updated during the first several years of Common Core implementation. We’ve kept it online as an artifact of the era. Some links to major resources may still be helpful.

scubaA lot of teachers are a little breathless these days, and it’s not just the rush of a new school year. Another challenge is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, in various stages in an ever changing number of states (4th story). How do teachers view the impact of the CCSS on instruction and assessment? And how do educators move ahead with this pressing assignment?

Taking the Pulse of Teachers

ccss-survey-130A 2012 online survey with 540 responding teachers by WeAreTeachers found that well over half of the teachers surveyed taught in schools where the standards are in various stages of implementation. Seventy-two percent felt ‘somewhat’ or ‘well’ prepared for the changes. About the same percent have received some standards related training. Most were concerned about having resources aligned to the CCSS, with 60% preparing some of their own materials as well as accessing other sources. The WeAreTeachers survey found that teachers “see several challenges to Common Core implementation, including their own understanding of the standards, student engagement, assessment, and lack of professional development.”  A survey of Education Week subscribers found similar attitudes.

Reporting on the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher released in February 2013, Ed Week’s Catherine Gewertz noted  that teachers and principals were relatively positive about their ability to incorporate the CCSS into their teaching but are less confident that implementing the standards will boost student achievement. Elementary educators were more optimistic in this regard than middle and high school educators. In August 2013 Gewertz reported on one of a series of surveys of state education officials, administered by the Center on Education Policy, that showed professional development still lagging for many teachers and principals. She quoted from CEP’s report: “One of the most urgent challenges is to not only provide an adequate amount of CCSS-related professional development, but also ensure these services are of high quality.”

A Quick Look at CCSS Origins

For a quick review of the recent history of CCSS, Tom Vander Ark at Getting Smart reviews Robert Rothman’s book, Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education. Rothman in a bit more detail explains the development of the Common Core standards and the possible impact of their implementation in a 2012 Educational Leadership article, A Common Core of Readiness. Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Tom Vander Ark, author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World and founder of, was formerly the executive director of education for the Gates Foundation. (For other views of the CCSS origins story, see some of the articles in the Concerns section below.)

 The Basics and Beyond

Edutopia’s ‘Resources for Understanding the Common Core State Standards’  puts the copious CCSS online resources into a manageable order.  Starting with selected links to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, Edutopia continues with ASCD resources that include the EduCore site and the December 2012 issue of Educational Leadership that asks Common Core: Now What?  and offers articles such as The Common Core Ate My Baby and Other Urban Legends by Timothy Shanahan, and Making the Shifts by Sandra Alberti. ASCD also provides upcoming and archived free webinars.

Edutopia provides links to Hunt Institute videos and the grade level videos from the Teaching Channel (TCh). The introductory TCh videos show NYC classrooms – elementary and middle school – as they pilot the CCSS. The TCh videos also present brief interviews with the authors of the standards. In addition, Sarah Brown Wessling offers a series of videos which have garnered lots of comments.  You can also access TCh blog posts, notably “My 10 Greatest ‘Ah-ha’ Moments in Working with the Core” by Wessling.

Edutopia also points teachers to Share My Lesson from AFT and TES Connect as well as Learn Zillion. After overviews of resources from Achieve,  the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC),  Edutopia explains the two federally funded collaboratives tasked with developing standards-aligned assessments, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Both organizations are working with the Educational Testing Service’s Center for K-12 Assessment and Performance Management. Edutopia concludes with links to helpful posts from several of its bloggers and others.

Much of Education Week’s detailed coverage of the Common Core saga requires registration or subscription. Another option is to sign up for Ed Week newsletters. Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters blog is public and frequently reports on CCSS developments.For example, see such recent posts as Pennsylvania Stays In Consortia, But Won’t Use Tests.  Among Ed Week’s archived sponsored webinars are several on CCSS, including one on standards and English language learners and another on math.

Help for Parents

Not surprisingly, the public is less aware of the CCSS than educators. The Council of the Great City Schools, a 57 year old organization representing 65 urban school systems, has released ‘Parent Roadmaps to the Common Core Standards’ for grades K-8. The site offers guides on both math and ELA to help parents support their children as they encounter class work aligned to the CCSS. The Council also hosts a CCSS video to promote the standards among parents.  And at the National PTA site, you’ll find grade by grade editions of the ‘Parent’s Guide to Student Success’ as well as other CCSS-related resources.

CCSS in the Middle Grades Classroom

Education bloggers have responded left, right and center, to the challenges the Common Core implementation presents. Particularly helpful to middle grades teachers are two pragmatic posts from TweenTeacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron. In “What’s In a Name? – The Questionable Branding of the ‘Common’ Core,” she argues that despite the self-inflicted wound of unfortunate branding, the CCSS can become effective because the standards demand “students use their brains to contribute to a topic, not just the regurgitation of that topic.” She continues: “It’s about not just the content but the collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity involved in communicating that content. And that’s not common.” Wolpert-Gawron concludes that teachers will need to collaborate more actively at the school level to share communication skills and knowledge of content.

In another 2012 post, “The Common Core Tabloid: Truth vs. Hearsay,” Wolpert-Gawron responds to educators’ uncertainty about assessment by outlining two of her strategies for getting her students ready for what actually materializes. She describes the usefulness of teaching with leveled questions for future use in CAT (computer adaptive technology) assessments. She adds, “To address the writing component and the performance-based assessments, I have become deeply dedicated to project based learning this year [using] collaboration, technology, inquiry-based instruction, and project-based writing.” Results include more enthusiastic students and improved test scores, she says.

“How can principals successfully support teachers’ implementation of new curricula?” including the upcoming CCSS emphasis on deeper literacy.  An ASCD Express article by Nonie K. Lesaux and Joan G. Kelley, Five Findings for Leading Common Core Implementation, offers suggestions distilled from middle school teachers’ feedback.

Concerns about the CCSS

Criticism of the CCSS is present among some on the political right, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess, writing in Ed Week. In August 2012 Hess wondered if the pro-CCSS forces were sufficiently aware of the conservative reaction against the federal push for the standards’ implementation. He cited statements from the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as well as conservative think tanks, who express concerns about federal over-reaching. Though ALEC in late 2012 softened its position on the CCSS, Hess himself continues to be concerned about the impact of implementation, seeing reformers as concentrating more on messaging than improving education outcomes. In an August 2013 Ed Week post, Hess updated his evaluation of the political climate.

Strong reactions have also come from some educators. They question the source and intent of the CCSS. Writing in the Washington Post, educator and consultant Marion Brady posted “Eight Problems with Common Core Standards.” In a reference that recalled the traditional description of reading, writing, math and science as the “core” subjects, Brady said: “Variously motivated corporate interests, arguing that the core was being sloppily taught, organized a behind-the-scenes campaign to super-standardize it. They named their handiwork the Common Core State Standards to hide the fact that it was driven by policymakers in Washington D.C.” Brady notes several inadequacies of the standards, including their relevance to improving learning when the impact of poverty is ignored. (Find Brady’s 2013 opinions here.)

In an August 2013 Ed Week blog post, Nancy Flanagan summarizes the CCSS politics, the economics, and the challenges facing educator and notes where she believes the struggle needs to move: national, standards aligned curriculum and tests.

For further views of the CCSS, see Larry Ferlazzo’s ‘The Best Articles Sharing Concerns about Common Core Standards.’ Hear lots of teacher voices in response to Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q&A post, How Can We Best Prepare Students for Common Core in Language Arts?

In addition to collecting teacher voices about the CCSS at his blog, Teaching the Core, educator Dave Stuart, Jr. proposes that, rather than freaking out about the coming standards, teachers strengthen their practice by adopting them. He offers specifics based on five ELA standards.

What about Science, History and the Arts?

The first focus of the Common Core movement has been mathematics and language arts. Much discussion has centered on how to take the literacy standards beyond the ELA classroom and include nonfiction reading and writing in the content areas. Social studies/ science middle grades teacher Jason Fair, working with literacy professor Ginni C. Fair, tackled the challenge in his classes. They write about their strategies and students’ responses in Literacy as the Link: Common Core Standards and Content Area Teaching, one of several AMLE articles about the CCSS.

Standards for the content areas themselves are in various stages of development. The Next Generation Science Standards were released in April 2013.  NSTA has archived a series of free webinars to explain the major practices present in the NGSS, including a final webinar presented days after the standards’ release. Ed Week’s Erik W. Robelen provided an overview of the standards, including the parts dealing with evolution and climate change which will likely generate some political push-back, the history of the standards’ development, initial responses from science organizations that had found earlier drafts acceptable or lacking, and the outlook for development of assessments, as of now unfunded. Discover the hands-on role of teachers in crafting the NGSS from Marsha Ratzel, the Kansas middle grades teacher and blogger, who worked with 50 other educators and industry leaders in her state to review drafts and recommend changes as the standards were developed. Recommended by ASCD Express, this series of videos from Paul Anderson can help teachers present content to students at the designated grade called for in the NGSS.

In November 2012 the National Council for the Social Studies along with the 22 states who are represented by the Council of Chief State School Officers met to continue their work on developing social studies state standards. Following the meeting the CCSSO issued “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards.”  The eight page statement outlined plans for creating a framework, not standards, for states, as discussed by Catherine Gewertz at Ed Week.  In July 2013 the NCSS announced that the framework was set for release during the fall of 2013.

In July 2013 the National Coalition for Core Art Standards thanked over 3000 people who had reviewed the June draft of  the Next Generation National Arts Standards planned to update the 1994 National Standards for Arts ducation (available at the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge).  For revision updates and  a project timeline of the voluntary standards set to be completed in 2014, visit the NCCAS wiki.


Educators Tout IB’s Links to Common Core – As districts scramble to translate the Common Core State Standards into concrete curricula and lesson plans, says this Education Week story, some educators are highlighting the International Baccalaureate program as an especially strong fit.

Here’s a timely Common Core topic from the final 2012 issue (12/20) of ASCD Express: Characteristics of Literacy-Rich Content-Area Classrooms. You’ll learn more about the essential elements of literacy-friendly classes in math, science and social studies. For a deeper look at literacy in the mathematics classroom, also see Meet Content-Area Literacy Standards Without Losing the Math Teacher.

In late 2012 Edutopia posted a five-part series by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins to help clear up some of the confusion surrounding the implementation of the CCSS and to suggest workable next steps.

The New York Times Learning Network is continuing its weekly series of lessons drawn from the news growing out of CCSS implementation.

Computer-adaptive testing being developed as CCSS implementation is planned has advantages for kids at either end of the ability continuum but present challenges as well, explained in this article from Ed Week’s Digital Directions. (10/24/12)

Do you teach mathematics? Writing at eSchool News in 2013, Laura Devaney explains How the Common Core is redefining math instruction. She finds that “integrating skills throughout the curriculum and drilling deeper on concepts, are among key changes.”


Susan Curtis

Susan Curtis is co-editor of In a long career, she has taught middle grades students, worked in human services, edited a variety of publications and wrangled the reference desk in libraries.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you, Susan, for this helpful post! I appreciate your efforts to reduce the freaking out that’s happening around the CCSS. Such anxiety (and the practices that promote it) is not only unpleasant; it’s utterly counterproductive.

    Thanks again — take care.

    • Susan Curtis says:

      Thanks, Dave. I just revisited your blog, Teaching the Core, and found your collection of teacher CCSS stories. Just added them and your “Non-Freaked Out” response to the standards to this post’s teacher response paragraph. Thank you!

  1. 09/14/2012

    […] Common Core State Standards in Middle Schools: We point to essential links, free PD resources, critiques, help for parents & future forecast.  […]

  2. 10/07/2012

    […] CCSS: Take a Deep Breath is from MiddleWeb. […]

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