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Friday, September 11, 2015

Common Core in Fort Thomas Series: Part I

Board of Education. FTM file. 
The following is the first of five articles dealing with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how they affect Fort Thomas Independent Schools.  Subsequent articles will examine the major stakeholders at FTIS and explore their experiences with the CCSS.

By Timothy Patrick Kirk

In February of 2010, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Implementation of the CCSS began in the 2011-12 school year.  Fort Thomas Independent Schools (FTIS) are in their fifth year of this transition.  Nationwide, many questions still remain about the efficacy of the new standards, the role the federal government should play in education, and the wisdom of high-stakes testing.  What changes do the new standards mandate, and how do they affect FTIS?

What is Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of learning targets and performance expectations for grades K-12 in Mathematics and English/Language Arts.   It is the most expansive attempt in the history of the country to nationalize such standards.

The CCSS were created in 2009 by education leaders in 48 states including: business people, parents, governors and their chief education officers.  In the same year, Congress authorized more than four billion dollars to be distributed to school districts across the country if states opted to participate in Race to the Top (RTT) parameters.  RTT is a competitive grant program which awards states for embracing reform.  Adopting the CCSS is one way for states to secure this additional funding.
What is the history?

The CCSS came about, in part, as a result of international competition.  The United States had fallen behind on key international benchmarks such as the TIMMS tests, which are Math and Science exams taken by select 4th and 8th graders around the world every four years.  The US scored above average, but still lagged behind many (OECD) countries.

Such pressures urged Governors and their education superintendents to establish national standards that would help US schoolchildren compete with their international counterparts - especially in Europe and East Asia.

Where do they stand?
As is often the case with change in education policy, the CCSS have been divisive.  Both the Koch brothers and elements of the Occupy Movement have voiced strong opposition.
Some parents and teachers are urging students not to participate in the testing.  Unions and business leaders have been generally in favor of the change to national standards.  Some are on the fence and are waiting to see what the implementation looks like.

The two major teachers unions are behind the CCSS, although the NEA has stressed concerns over implementation and listening to teachers in the classroom as the kinks are worked out.
Diane Ravitch, formerly of the Bush administration’s Department of Education, has voiced her concerns about the way in which the standards were constructed and their overemphasis on high-stakes testing.

Key Differences from Old State Standards 
The CCSS differ from previous reforms in their scope and design.  This is the first serious attempt to nationalize standards.  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) left standards up to the states.  According to Andy Porter, Dean of University of Pennsylvania’s College of Education, “the Common Core represents not a modest technical exercise, but a serious overhaul of how states approach math and reading instruction.”

The CCSS are an attempt to standardize learning targets and outcomes in Mathematics and English/Language Arts across the nation’s 14,000 school districts.  They are not a curriculum, but learning targets and essential process expectations that devote, as Porter puts it: “less time to memorization and performing procedures, and more to demonstrating understanding and analyzing written material.”

Here are some specifics about the standards from

Key Shifts in English Language Arts
• The standards’ focus on evidence-based writing along with the ability to inform and persuade is a significant shift from current practice.
• Regular practice with complex texts and their academic language.
• Reading, writing, speaking, and listening should span the school day from K-12 as integral parts of every subject.

Key Shifts in Mathematics
• Greater focus on fewer topics.
• Coherence: Linking topics and thinking across grades.
• Rigor: Pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity.

A publication from the editors of the American Federation of Teachers summed up their support for the CCSS by citing specific examples of the positives of a national standard.  They extolled the capacity to share and collaborate, the ease of transition for teachers and students into new districts, the ability to streamline textbooks.  Curricula would match the end of course assessments, teacher training programs would be more aligned across the country, and data would be able to give true comparisons across districts and states or beyond.

Not all states have adopted the standards.  Even in states that have adopted the standards, opposition exists.  Some of the concerns include the following: CCSS forces inappropriate learning targets on young students who aren’t developmentally ready for them.  Additionally, they take autonomy out of the hands of local educators and teachers, don’t address gaps in equality of opportunity, and create an atmosphere of high-stakes testing.  As of today, there is no unified end of course assessment for students in the 43 states which have adopted the standards.

Common Core in action
What does all this mean for Fort Thomas Independent Schools?  Are the new standards changing the way FTIS conducts business in the classroom?  Subsequent articles will deal more specifically with local stakeholders and how all of these changes are affecting them.  Kentucky was the first state to adopt the standards, and FTIS should, theoretically, be ahead of the curve in their implantation process.  But the question remains:  Will this propel them to improved scores and better educational outcomes?

The views and opinions expressed here in “Common Core in Fort Thomas” do not reflect the views or opinions of Fort Thomas Matters, its owners, writers, or editors. These are solely the ideas and independent research of Timothy Patrick Kirk.

Timothy Kirk. 
Next week’s article will discuss the role of FTIS administrators in implementing changes brought about by the new standards.

Timothy Patrick Kirk is a certified teacher of mathematics from the state of Washington.  He makes Fort Thomas, Kentucky his home where he substitutes and tutors mathematics as well as test prep.


  1. Thank you for drawing attention to this very important debate.
    The Common Core Standards were created, in part, to increase rigour in the classroom effecting better prepared students. To many educators, this is the most important reason.
    This is not accomplished by spending countless meaningless hours practicing how to take standardized tests at the expense of learning how to learn the content,
    Intellectual rigour, as defined by Collins Thesaurus of the English Language, is "thoughtful, challenging, and precise". Educators know that they can provide this climate for their students by preparing themselves and their environment with Inquiry-Based Instruction that includes Differentiated Learning, as well as an assurance that the assessment measure aligns with this instruction.

  2. how about we just let teachers teach, and the cream will rise to the top. fort thomas didn't need common core to become one of the best school systems in the state. all this does is bring us back to the rest of the pack. lets be exceptional, not sheep.