Jim Martinez decided to research the sources of the Common Core State Standards. Given their importance as a redesign of the nation’s highly decentralized education system, we can expect to see many more such efforts to understand the origins of this important document.

“Engaging the nonsense – a brief investigation of the Common Core”

A teacher asked me where the Common Core came from, another suggested that I “teach” the Common Core in my Master’s degree level courses.

So my curiosity got the best of me and I spent some time understanding something about Common Core from my perspective as a scholar and educator.

My first discovery is that the Common Core is a political document. That may seem fairly obvious, but what I mean is that there is an identifiable political ideology and history that has contributed greatly to the current document. I’ve attached a link to document that led me to this conclusion.
http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards – English Language Arts Appendix A

This document contains references to supporting representative research for the Common Core. As I read the document something caught my eye, it was the following quote from Adams (2009)

““There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. To grow, our students must read lots, and more specifically they must read lots of ‘complex’ texts—texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought””

This bothered me. I don’t agree with the statement and so I decided to read Adams (2009) I did a Google search and found this:

http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/adams.htm – The Challenge of Advanced Texts:The Interdependence of Reading and Learning.

From the text I figured out that Adams is a heavy weight in reading and literacy circles (pun intended) there’s just a style of writing and authoritative stance that gives you clues, I then looked her up in Wikipedia to confirm my suspicions.


If you read the article you find that not only is she a heavy weight, she is politically connected as in, inside the room when policy decisions are made.

I Googled a little more and came to this document.


It’s a critique on her work in the 1990s that refers to her government directed research on phonics instruction. The critique and her response are very informative. It took me a couple of hours to find these documents and read parts of them and I think I found some answers to some questions and was provoked to some other thoughts that I will share with you now.

Common Core includes in it’s history, No Child Left Behind and other national educational policy reports dating back to A Nation At Risk (1983). It’s important to remember that most research is government funded and so it is unfair to critique educational research for it’s funding source. However, it is absolutely fair to question who gets to decide what the research is about and how that research is presented and used.

I happened to pursue a line of inquiry that involved Adams (2009) but there were many other researchers cited (Beck and Mckeown, vocabulary development, are notable as well) in the Common Core. I disagreed with Adams and I wanted to explore the source of the disagreement, the critiques helped clarify my understanding of my disagreement. The critiques also provided valuable insights on the theoretical framework Adams uses in her research. I still disagree with her, but I am respectful of her efforts. Which brings me to my next point.

There are many researchers cited in the Common Core, with many research agendas, using many methodological approaches across many disciplines. There is no cohesive theoretical framework or agreement on what constitutes the best approaches from a scientific research perspective to teaching and learning being represented in the document. Critics of the representative research in the Common Core abound. Some of the representative research consists of laboratory trials with small numbers of students, some include longitudinal studies and some of the research includes significant limitations that should be considered carefully when considering the claims that are made in the research.

Given the ambition of a national educational policy it seems that the best policy makers could come up with are some “best practices” that have achieved some success. It is very helpful to publicize that kind information, however, we have to ask: Is it useful to claim that a patchwork quilt of research underlying a set of standards is a framework for a solution to the educational challenges this country faces?

When teachers are asked to implement standards that they feel “do not make sense” it is not that teachers are simply ignorant and require professional development, it is in my opinion, the initial reaction of a person engaged in a craft/practice that is highly dependent and responsive to local conditions.

The Common Core standards are derived, in part, from an abstraction (the patchwork quilt of research) and are being pushed on to practitioners. The research strands that I examined tended toward the notion that knowledge acquisition is the endgame of school-based learning. I would not be surprised if that were true of many of the other research strands as that sentiment is pervasive in education.

Knowledge acquisition learning is about remembering and being able to manipulate abstract knowledge. We determine that a student has acquired knowledge by testing or providing a task that can only be completed if the individual has the requisite skill or knowledge. The Common Core is intended to set the standard for this type of learning and so there must be tests. Let’s set aside for the moment that the standardized tests we already use are not calibrated to the Common Core. If we believe in an educational system that prioritizes knowledge acquisition in the service of a national security agenda (economic competitiveness, technology dominance, etc.) then testing is necessary.

We experience the consequences of this priority in classrooms every day. I don’t have to detail them here.

If we believe that education is about more than knowledge acquisition, and that national security can be achieved through other concepts such as healthy communities, sustainable resource uses, national unity, world peace, or the elimination of hunger and poverty. Then we need to take responsibility for our practices, assert our own understandings of those practices, expose those practices to peer-review and challenge “what does not make sense” collectively.

I am finding that engaging the “nonsense” has been a good learning experience.

Thoughts and comments are welcomed.