Note: Click on any word on this page (and click it again) to experience the Online Learning Support Net (OLSN).

Re: Common Core State Standards Dividing GOP

A recent post in Education Week sketches the dilemma faced by Republicans over the Common Core State Standards  ( Apparently, for some GOP leaders, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent a “state-led effort to help improve learning outcomes throughout the nation”. For others it’s considered “Obama Core”.

My hope is that in the course of arguing the pros and cons of CCSS the parties (and all of us) will be forced to ask: “What is the mission of 21st century American education?”. After all, if we don’t have a clear, shared, understanding of the mission of education, how could we possibly evaluate CCSS? Moreover, if we don’t engage in the deeper dialogue, CCSS could go the way of the reading wars. We could get mired in polarized and superficial arguments (like phonics v whole) that impede rather than enhance the kind of professional learning educators most need to engage in.

We need a 21st century curriculum and having common core standards is a vital part of the equation. The question is what is the purpose of CCSS? What is it designed to do and for whom? What is its mission and what does its mission say, implicitly, about the underlying educational mission it serves?

CCSS Mission Statement: (from:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are EXPECTED to learn, so teachers and parents KNOW WHAT THEY NEED to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS that our young people NEED for success in college and careers. With American students FULLY PREPARED for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. (Bold All CAPS emphasis mine)

So in other words, the mission of CCSS is to:

Improve our economic future by teaching students the common core of knowledge and skills that WE KNOW THEY NEED TO LEARN.

But how could we possibly think that WHAT WE THINK THEY NEED TO LEARN is more important to their futures than HOW WELL THEY CAN LEARN WHAT THEY NEED WHEN THEY GET THERE?

My point is that everything we ‘know‘ they ‘need to learn‘ is at best scaffolding for their future learning.

What should today’s children learn in order to be ready for a world in which virtually everything known about everything known is instantly available through inexpensive mobile devices? What facts should they remember? What mental skills must they have when these same devices will be able to coach them, in real-time, through learning to perform virtually any task they feel challenged by?

What kind of jobs will exist for humans? What should today’s children learn in order to be ready to compete for jobs with tomorrow’s computers and robots? ( In what kinds of ‘knowledge work’ jobs will humans still be able to out-perform the ROI advantages of machines? In what kinds of manual labor jobs will humans out-perform machines?

Clearly there will be ever fewer opportunities for human beings who can only perform repetitive manual labor, remember factoids, or perform routine intellectual functions. So, what can we do today to prepare today’s children for tomorrow? What is the mission of education? (

More than anything else we can say with certainty, the future depends on how well our children learn when they get there – depends on how well they can learn in ways and about things we can’t teach them in school.

Imagine developing  common core standards with the mission of stewarding how well children learn  – that use what we think they should learn not as the ‘end’ objective but as the evolving ‘means’ to exercise their ability to learn whatever they need whenever they need to.

To prepare children to learn in the future we need a 21st century curriculum. The question is what is the purpose of the curriculum?  What is the mission of 21st century education in America?


5 Responses to Re: Common Core State Standards Dividing GOP

  1. daniela September 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    These are just words. State Standards vs. Common Core State Standards….I can’t help but feel that it’s all lip-service paid to some Utopian ideal of education, with absolute disregard for what happens on the ground, in the classroom, in the home…it always ends up being about “compliance”, about the paperwork of compliance, about “assessment” about “the test,” rather than about educating actual living children.
    As long as class sizes keep going up, intervention programs for struggling students, if they exist, have students sitting at the computer, rather than with a teacher, and the blatant disregard for the demographic realities of students living in disadvantaged communities continues, no amount of preaching high standards is going to lead to good citizenship, or improved outcomes for children. We all know that, but we’d all rather talk in the abstract, of what we think “our” children need to know…etc…etc…etc…

    • Learning-Activist September 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Thank you for commenting Daniela. I can’t tell from your comment if your intent is to take issue with my post or with the larger conversation about ‘standards’. I agree with much of what you shared. My point in this piece is that, “what we think “our” children need to know” (to use your words) is what we most need to challenge. We no longer live in a world where we can afford the kind of adult arrogance that thinks ‘what we think children should learn is more important than how well they can learn’. What I am trying to do is ignite a conversation about ‘the mission of education’ because until such time as we have it we will keep trying to automate and optimize a system that is profoundly misoriented. I liken it to ‘rearranging the liter box and expecting a new kind of cat to jump out’. Your lament about “it always ends up being about “compliance”, about the paperwork of compliance, about “assessment” about “the test,” rather than about educating actual living children” is right on. And, that’s my point. We focus on these things because, implicitly, our current conception of the mission of education requires that we do. We can either fight each issue or we can challenge their underlying organizing principles – the ‘mission’ the ‘purpose’ of education.

    • Delpha Powell October 12, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      I agree that these are just words,different words for naming the same thing.

      20 years ago it was Outcome Based Education, then, here in Oregon, we had CIM/CAM(Certificates of Initial and Advanced Mastery). Next we have endured more than a decade of No Child Left Behind and Title I. Now the latest word names are CCSS and Race to the Top? Perhaps I’ve missed a few in between.
      These attempts to standardize and education may begin with the best of intentions. We want a well-educated democracy. We want our children to become engaged citizens who care for themselves and those around them in communities which are environmentally healthy, thriving economically and sustainable. So If determining standards and how to achieve them was the key to successfully educating our children, then we would not be looking at the kind of illiteracy statistics that the COTC project has placed before us because we have been trying to standardize our public ed system for as long as I can remember. And where, in all these standards, is the definition of a well-educated child?

      I began to question this system of education when our older daughter was in first grade. There were 62 children in an L-shaped classroom (32 in each ‘pod?’) with 2 teachers. As a parent volunteer, I witnessed an overabundance of worksheets and far too much wasted time spent indoors enduring group discipline where the misbehavior of one child often resulted in the entire class losing privileges and feeling bad about themselves.

      I didn’t know exactly what the education of children ought to look like, but I knew that this version was NOT it (and at that time, this was the best school in our district). So I told my husband that I wanted to teach our daughters at home. He said that I should not ‘abandon a sinking ship.’ I promised him that I would return to that ship once our they were in college.
      I kept that promise and have been working in public elementary schools for almost 5 years. I am not a certified teacher, but my passion is helping children (especially the struggling ones) learn to read. The joy in their faces when they begin to break the code is my main reason for returning each day.
      My other reason is that each day, especially this year, I witness children losing hope, losing their sense of wonder and the joy of discovery. My heart breaks for those lost children and I am determined to learn how to help.
      We have lost our way.

      Thank you, David, for your work. I am just beginning to learn about it and hope to be able to help. Where does one begin in a system that is so layered with bureaucracy?

  2. Bruce Kendall September 3, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Mr. Boulton,

    After reading your comments and exploring the links, it seems you almost grasp the root of the problem. However, that is understandable.

    While we agree in intent, we stand in two slightly different positions.

    From where I stand the root of the problem, is that we have no stated purpose statement, to meet student needs today, and in the future.

    Without a Purpose Statement, this leaves everyone assuming, we all know why we educate students. However, when comparing Mission Statements, it soon becomes clear we have thousands of ideas, why education exists.

    My suggestion for an all-purpose Purpose Statement, pre-K through twelfth grade:

    “To help students reach their fullest capacity to be self-directed life-long-learners, without loosing their natural curiosity.”

    My concerns about the CCSS, is the failure to bring to the classroom, Standards that “Build-Better-Students,” through teaching the skills necessary to be scholars, and self-directed life-long-learners.


    • Learning-Activist September 4, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Hello Bruce, Thanks for engaging.

      I think we are in sync about the need for an organizing vision of the purpose and mission of education. That was the point of the piece. I am simply using CCSS as one of the many contexts for asking the question: what is the mission (or purpose if you prefer) of education in 21st century America.

      As for your suggested statement… ‘life-long-learners’ has become a platitude and it’s misleading. We can’t help but be life long learners – we are always learning, but learning can be profoundly unhealthy and learning disabling rather than learning enabling: – As for not losing curiosity, it’s unhealthy learning that chokes our curiosity… we are born curious and remain so until we learn otherwise.

      We don’t need to come up with an “answer” about the purpose/mission. We need to get more of the population really asking the question. We have educators being ever more pressured to become robotic extensions to protocols they don’t first-person understand. CCSS could amplify that aspect of the problem. It runs the risk of automating all that is wrong with education. There just isn’t any substitute for educators becoming more first-person learning oriented in how they educate.

      This site is about a series of key memes that I think are fundamental to the kinds of changes we both want. Take some time to go through the memes and please comment on each of them… engage with me at a more granular level and let’s continue this dialogue.

      Respectfully, thanks and all the best – David

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.