What is the Biggest Educational Change Promoted by Common Core?

  • curriculum materials Common Core State Standards
  • 13 November, 2013

What is the biggest educational change promoted by the Common Core?

  There are so many choices: kids will be reading more challenging texts; close reading will revolutionize the reading lessons; high school English, science, and social studies teachers will teach disciplinary literacy; there will be greater attention to argument, multiple text, informational text, and writing from sources, and so on?

  So which is the biggest change? Perhaps one that you haven’t even thought of…

  Past standards were long lists of skills, knowledge, and strategies; lists so endless that they were less standards than curriculum guides. Until CCSS, the typical standards looked like a scope and sequence chart rather than a list of outcomes.

  In fact, the lists were so long that most of the young people who have become teachers since 1991 have no idea what the difference is between standards and curricula. When you have such complete lists of outcomes, you end up with an extensive list of lessons rather than learning goals.

  Standards are goals; they are the outcomes that we want our children to accomplish. Standards tell you what the point is, but they really don’t tell you what needs to be taught.

  Example: the standards require that students be able to write/compose high quality narratives, expositions, and arguments. However, the standards do not expressly require schools to teach students to use manuscript hand, cursive writing, or keyboarding.

  That has some critics in a tizzy, but it is as it should be. The standard tells you the outcome that must be accomplished, but not everything that a student may need to learn to reach the goal is specified. That's where the teacher comes in… what do we need to teach to accomplish these standards? That is up to us.

  Just try to teach kids to compose without making it possible for them to express their ideas in printed, written, or typed words… that wouldn’t make any sense, and I assume most schools and publishers will eventually figure out the reason for this "omission" and kids will still be taught to put their words on paper (even though CCSS doesn’t even mention it).

  The same can be said about teaching students to comprehend text. The standards don't require you to teach comprehension strategies, but research suggests that if you do you will be more likely to get the students to the standard.

  The standards say teach students to summarize… but they don’t specify all of the possible subskills, pre-skills, or types of texts that students should be able to summarize. Try teaching summarization by just having students practice summarizing and you won’t be likely succeed.

  So the big change? The CCSS takes us back to a time when the educational goals were separated from the curriculum, which puts teachers back in charge of the curriculum.

  Now if we could just get teachers to see tests as something separate from goals and curriculum.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Laura Gibbs Jun 19, 2017 10:07 PM


What I'm saying is that there is no study in which some students are taught grammar and an equivalent group is not that shows any impact on student reading comprehension or writing.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 19, 2017 10:08 PM


Maybe I am too optimistic, and yet I don't believe that schools should be held accountable for teaching joy (joy is nice, but it definitely is not a college and career readiness skill).

Your actual concerns (as expressed at your blog site) has to do with the progression of skills not the skills themselves. Accuracy matters in quality writing; don't refer readers to claims about "absurd subskills" when your actual concern is that the standards repeats these subskills from grade to grade (in fact, your blog doesn't challenge the actual skills themselves). In any event, the standards are not so thorough or specific that just teaching them explicitly would end up with kids who could meet the standards--that was my point.

Laura Gibbs Jun 19, 2017 10:08 PM


The skills repeating is not the problem (although it certainly undermines the obsessive grade-level architecture of the standards) - the problem is the disingenuous way in which they "jiggle" the language so that the skills are not repeating from grade to grade but instead PRETEND to be some kind of faux developmental progression. Just so we are clear, are you telling me that you would be able to design a measure to test for the difference between "relevant descriptive details" in the Grade 6 writing standard, as opposed to "well-chosen details" in Grade 9...?

JM Jun 19, 2017 10:09 PM


You said: "research suggests that if you do [teach comprehension strategies] you will be more likely to get the students to the standard".

Which research suggests this? I am suspicious of reading strategies (cf. Daniel Willingham). Could you please provide some references regarding the effectiveness of teaching comprehension strategies.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 19, 2017 10:09 PM


Probably the most authoritative was the review of such research conducted by the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) which looked at over 200 studies on strategy teaching. You can find that government report online. Also, more recently, the What Works Clearinghouse conducted a review of such research done with younger children (K-3), and indicated that there were strong research results favoring such teaching at those grade levels (look for the "practice guide" on primary grade reading comprehension--also available free on line).

Tammy (ZivaDiva2010) Jun 19, 2017 10:10 PM


Thank you for this post. We will be referring to it in an upcoming PD with our administrators. The curriculum team I am on is working hard to get our teachers to see CCSS this way.

Russ Walsh Jun 19, 2017 10:10 PM


I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss joy as a college and career ready skill. Recent research would indicate that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of college graduation than standardized test scores and high school GPA (see for example Sparkman, et. al (2012) Non-cognitive predictors of student success in college. College Student Jurnal). Emotional intelligence is packed with many things, of course, but surely joy in reading, writing and connecting are among them. CCSS will score a hollow victory if it succeeds in creating academically prepared students who approach their studies joylessly.

Ed Jun 19, 2017 10:11 PM


Dr. Shanahan,

Some further thoughts on the discussion. I still haven't dug through research yet, but have some preliminary thoughts on research and reading comprehension.

Your main response to my original comment was that there is no evidence that effective readers use strategies or need to.

I'd first respond by saying that we need to clarify what we mean by "reading strategies." I'd argue that the use of "strategies" is actually the definition of comprehension. Comprehension (in the reading arena) involves mentally processing language and deriving mental representations based on text. Those processes are arguably "strategies." For example, summarizing a passage, or identifying cause & effect, are "strategies." To argue that effective readers neither use nor need strategies such as summarizing or identifying cause & effect defies logic and the very definition of what it means to comprehend.

On the other hand, many comprehension strategies are more general comprehension or language comprehension skills, rather than skills related to the process of reading. For example, identifying cause & effect is a strategy that could be used with a read aloud passage or lecture. It's not "reading-specific." So, if we take a closer look at text-based comprehension strategies, such as re-reading passage or looking up unknown words, maybe we'd be able to conclude that, with those strategies, effective readers neither use nor need them? I'd argue no. Take the strategy of re-reading text that wasn't initially comprehended. Would it be reasonable or possible to argue that effective readers don't do this?

Here would be my challenge to you: Identify a class of comprehension skills specifically that you think are unhelpful. I'm sure we could also identify an isolated skill or two that may or may not be helpful to teach. However, which class of comprehension skills are suggesting are neither used nor helpful?

Finally, when doing some initial research, I searched my notes for "comprehension strategies," and actually came up with a blog post you had made a while back entitled, "What is the biggest educational change promoted by the common core?" In that, you stated,

"The same can be said about teaching students to comprehend text. The standards don't require you to teach comprehension strategies, but research suggests that if you do you will be more likely to get the students to the standard."

What research were you referring to here? It seems that you have identified research to support instruction of comprehension strategies?

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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What is the Biggest Educational Change Promoted by Common Core?


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