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Common Sense for the Common Core?

Let's Exercise Caution When Taking a Stand!
Let’s Exercise Caution When Taking a Stand!

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS)…once again educators, politicians, parents, and business leaders are taking sides on an issue. But is declaring “for” or “against” really going to help education? I mean, with which of these arguments for the CCSS can one truly disagree? Don’t we need

  • A common set of learning targets–what Marzano calls a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” Enough standards that we know students are learning what needs to be learned, but limited to the quantity that can actually be taught in the time available.
  • A bit of efficiency–without the CCSS we’ve got 50 teams in 50 states creating and revising standards. That’s a lot of time and effort.
  • A way to know whether students are learning–great measures of student learning. Creating good assessment items is really difficult. In fact, I know of at least one instance where a state’s publicly available sample items were rejected test questions; they couldn’t waste good questions.

Did you say, “Well, yes, but…” to any of the above statements? For example,

  • Yes, but standardizing, with high-stakes testing in a few content areas, can rob children with diverse talents of instruction in other areas that might be the key to their life-long vocations…
  • Yes, but teachers, schools and states need freedom to customize learning goals to match local priorities, student interests, current events…
  • Yes, but standardized testing is stripping our schools of a love of teaching and learning…


There’s an ongoing tension between standardization and customization of our children’s education that will never go away. It’s a polarity–a system of values where each “side” holds a part of the truth that is incomplete without the other side. You can’t treat a polarity as a problem to solve, because the “solution” simply creates a different set of problems that are inherent in the pole on which you are currently focusing.

So…the pendulum swung toward the CCSS because the customization of standards in each state was creating all kinds of problems. And now that the emphasis is on standardization, we’re already seeing protests concerning the downsides of a common set of standards.

That’s why I’m neither for nor against the CCSS. Instead, I’m for working together to come up with an implementation plan that will help us move forward with the best of both approaches–both standardization and customization.

This kind of polarity thinking is the focus of my next book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differencesdue out from Corwin this fall. Either we learn to work together, focusing on understanding the benefits and fears of each side in these ongoing issues, or we are doomed to continued cycles of solutions that simply create new problems. Anyone willing to learn a new way of reasoning?

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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