What the Common Core is and isn't [Commentary]

The results released last month of two different surveys on the Common Core State Standards painted vastly different pictures of the level of public support for the standards now adopted throughout the nation.

Both surveys were conducted by respected research organizations. Yet the disparity in the results reflects a marked difference in perception about the nature of the Common Core. Advocates on both sides of the ongoing Common Core debate found their views reinforced by the results of one or the other survey.

In the first poll, conducted jointly by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa (PDK), respondents were first asked how much they knew about the "new national standards for teaching reading, writing, and math in grades K through 12, known as the Common Core State Standards." The question implies that the standards were developed at the national level. When asked, "Do you favor or oppose having the teachers in your community use the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach?", 60 percent responded in the negative, most often citing that the standards limit teachers' flexibility in teaching what they believe is best.

The second poll, conducted by Education Next, introduced the topic more neutrally with "in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use" the new standards. When asked whether they support or oppose use of the Common Core, 54 percent responded positively. Support jumped to 68 percent when the term "Common Core" was omitted and the standards were described simply as "standards for reading and math that are the same across the states."

The highly politicized debate over how, why and by whom these standards were developed will continue. But it distracts us from what matters most in education: the teaching and learning that happens in every classroom, every day.

Standards certainly play a critical role in education; they set consistent expectations for the minimum level of knowledge that students at each level must master. The Common Core standards are unique because they are the first set of standards to be developed and adapted by the majority of states.

But their value ends there. Far more important factors influence a positive and successful learning experience. The curriculum must be high quality, easily accessible and understood, and accompanied by a rich library of resources. Teachers must have access to relevant and timely professional learning opportunities. School systems must set clear expectations, and even more importantly, must provide supportive environments where administrators and teachers have the latitude to innovate.

Let's keep our focus on giving teachers the resources and independence to do what they do best — creative, engaging, and meaningful instruction. This is the surest path to the quality education that we all want for every child.

Renee A. Foose, Ellicott City

The writer is Howard County superintendent.

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