This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are
available free online at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.
Common Core State Standards
Part 9: Introduction to National Standards
University of Oregon
This is the ninth IAE Newsletter in a 10-newsletter series that
addresses various issues related to the Common Core State Standards
(CCSS). These 10 newsletters will become a short book that will be
published by IAE and made available free on the Web. This ninth
newsletter will be the first chapter in the new book. All back issues
of the IAE Newsletter are available free at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.
CCSS is a state initiative. Quoting from the Common Core States Standards Initiative
The nation’s governors and education commissioners, through their
representative organizations the National Governors Association (NGA)
and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the
development of the Common Core State Standards and continue to lead the
initiative. Teachers, parents, school administrators and experts from
across the country together with state leaders provided input into the
development of the standards.
States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and
leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards.
Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core
State Standards, beginning in 2010. The federal government was NOT
involved in the development of the standards. Local teachers,
principals, and superintendents lead the implementation of the Common
Educational Standards-based Education the United States
The United States does not have a centralized education system.
In the U.S., each state is responsible for its own educational system
and sets its own standards. However, the past two decades have
witnessed a movement toward the development and implementation of
national standards. Quoting from Standards, Assessments, and Accountability, a 2009 National Academy of Education Policy White Paper:
reform [in the United States] has a more than 20-year history. A
standards-based vision was enacted in federal law under the Clinton
administration with the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and carried forward under the Bush
administration with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. In a
recent survey of policy makers, standards were acknowledged as the
central framework guiding state education policy.
Yet, despite this apparent unanimity about the intuitively appealing
idea of standards, there is great confusion about its operational
meaning: exactly what should the standards be, how should they be set
and by whom, and how should they be applied to ensure rigorous and high
quality education for American students are the central questions that
challenge policy makers and educators. For example, content standards
(subject-matter descriptions of what students should know and be able
to do) are often confused with performance standards (which are more
like passing scores on a test), and very different theories of action
are used to explain how standards-based reforms are expected to work.
Ambitious rhetoric has called for systemic reform and profound changes
in curriculum and assessments to enable higher levels of learning. In
reality, however, implementation of standards has frequently resulted
in a much more familiar policy of test-based accountability, whereby
test items often become crude proxies for the standards. (See http://edweb.csus.edu/equity-center/assets/standards-assessments-accountability.pdf.)
“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” (Thomas H. Huxley; English writer; 1825–1895.)
We are all lifelong learners. Our brain/mind is designed to
receive information from our external and internal sensors, process the
information, make use of or ignore it, and learn through this ongoing
sequence of activities.
Thomas Huxley’s statement suggests that a good education is quite
broad, but includes depth in at least one area. One way to think about
this is in terms of the broad general education that one needs to be a
responsible and productive adult, and the depth of knowledge and skills
one needs for a successful career.
I believe that this was good advice when Huxley wrote it, and it is
still good advice. However, the totality of human knowledge has grown
immensely over the past 150 years, and it is no longer possible to know
something about everything or everything about something. (Moursund,
2011). Education is a complex and challenging discipline!
Here is one of my favorite quotes:
“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” (African proverb.)
Long before the development of reading and writing, children learned
from their parents, siblings, and their “whole village.” Children
learned how to survive and prosper in their environment, to hunt and
gather, make fire, shelter, and garments, prepare and preserve food,
make and use tools, and so on. This learning came from a combination of
imitation, explicit instruction, and trial and error. All of this
occurred long before the development of reading and writing.
A little over ten thousand years ago, agriculture was developed. This
led to increasing size of population centers, more specializations of
work, and the need for record keeping for use in business and
Eventually, about five thousand years ago, reading and writing were
developed. It takes an extended amount of formal instruction to learn
reading and writing. Individual tutoring and early schools provided
such formal education to a small percentage of the population. Most of
the population remained illiterate.
The following quote gives us some insight into an early problem in formal education:
“When you spoke of a
nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that
one man may acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little
learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other,
after much study and application no sooner learns then he forgets …”
(Plato; Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of
philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the
first institution of higher learning in the western world; 428/427 BC–
Our current educational system still faces this challenge. As we work
to set goals and standards in education, we need to hold firmly in mind
the variability of students!
Meritocratic Civil Service
As populations increased and fiefdoms and countries developed,
leaders needed able and educated assistants. These might be chosen from
one’s relatives, friends, and those swearing allegiance. Alternatively,
there might be a merit system—civil servants chosen on the basis of
their potentials as learners and workers.
Quoting from the Wikipedia:
“From the time of the Han
Dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) until the implementation of the imperial
examination system, most appointments in the imperial bureaucracy were
based on recommendations from prominent aristocrats and local officials
whilst recommended individuals were predominantly of aristocratic rank.
Emperor Wu of Han started an early form of the imperial examinations,
transitioning from inheritance and patronage to merit, in which local
officials would select candidates to take part in an examination of the
The Chinese civil-service system gave the Chinese empire stability for
more than 2,000 years and provided one of the major outlets for social
mobility in Chinese society.
The modern examination system for selecting civil service staff also
indirectly evolved from the imperial one. This system was admired and
then borrowed by European countries from the 16th century onward, and
is now the model for most countries around the world. The first
European power to successfully implement the meritocratic civil service
was the British Empire, in their administration of India: "company
managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations
in order to prevent corruption and favoritism." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_service#Early_history.
Over the centuries, leaders began to see the value of having a
large number of citizens who had basic literacy. After the American
Revolution (1776-1783) Thomas Jefferson noted the need for an educated
and informed citizenry to help ensure freedom. In Virginia, he tried to
persuade the Virginia Legislature to provide for free education up
through the third grade. Although he was not successful in this
endeavor, the attempt gives an indication of the level of education
visionaries thought to be desirable for the general population at that
time. In three years of schooling, students could achieve basic
literacy and numeracy.
Literacy is a rather broad-reaching term. Quoting from the Wikipedia:
Literacy is the ability to
read for knowledge and interest, write coherently, and think critically
about the written word. Visual literacy includes in addition the
ability to understand all forms of communication, be it body language,
pictures, maps, or video. Evolving definitions of literacy often
include all the symbol systems relevant to a particular community.
Literacy encompasses a complex set of abilities to understand and use
the dominant symbol systems of a culture for personal and community
development. In a technological society, the concept of literacy is
expanding to include the media and electronic text, in addition to
alphabetic and number systems. These abilities vary in different social
and cultural contexts according to need and demand. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy#Ancient_and_medieval_literacy.)
This type of broad definition allows us to think about a student
developing both general literacy and literacy within certain
disciplines of study. For example, mathematics is a type of language. A
person might have general skills in reading and writing, but be
essentially illiterate in terms of the thinking, representing problems,
and solving problems using the language of mathematics (Moursund,
Developers of a modern education system face some particularly difficult literacy challenges. For example:
Who should learn general reading and writing, and at what level
of achievement? Nowadays there is considerable agreement that all
children should earn to read. In the United States, the average adult
reads at approximately the eighth grade level. That is, the average
adult reads about as well as average students in our eighth
grade. (See http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=166989.)
In the United States, a major goal in reading education is for
students to be moderately skillful at reading to learn by the end of
the third grade, and that reading to learn across all curriculum areas
be a standard part of the instructional process by the seventh grade.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has spawned a new
type of communication literacy including social networking, texting,
email, audio, and routine exchange of digital pictures and video. This
topic cuts across all curriculum areas and grade levels.
Computer-based information storage and retrieval systems have
brought a world-class library to our fingertips. This library also
includes computerized procedures that solve or help to solve a wide
range of problems. This computational thinking and computer-assisted
problem solving help to define a new type of communication literacy
Interactive computer games and other digital forms of
entertainment have overtaken television as a form of entertainment.
Many students find these types of entertainment far more gripping
(indeed, sometimes addictive) than traditional schooling (Moursund,
The buzz phrase uses the word career in place of work or job.
In my mind there is a considerable difference between having a career
and having a job. There are many minimal wage jobs that are easy entry,
and require modest knowledge, skills, and on-the-job training or
education. Many of these are “dead end” jobs. Today, there are fewer
career-type jobs in which a person steadily gains in knowledge and
skills and stays in the same type of job placement for a lifelong
Of course, there are many career-types of occupations in which much of
the needed learning can occur on the job and/or through a combination
of a job-oriented education/training program of modest length and
on-the-job experiences. I like to think of this as a type of
schooling/apprenticeship type of preparation.
Multiple Career-type Jobs
You have probably heard statements predicting that the average adult
will change careers six or seven times during his or her work career.
See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704206804575468162805877990.html. When
coupled with the many hours of study, training, education, and
experience it takes to achieve a high level of expertise in a career
area, this suggests that people who have a high level of expertise in a
sequence of careers carry over considerable knowledge and skills from
one career area to the next. Quoting Thorton May from her article
“Why the Word 'Career' Has become Obsolete,” we now “live in an age
when the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.…
Your career success is a function of how successfully you keep yourself
upgraded.” (May, 2012.)
May’s article contains some history that you may find interesting:
In the Middle Ages, one
never heard the word career. Clerics in their monasteries (the first
estate), kings in their courts (the second estate), and commoners in
their mud huts (the third estate) didn't discuss career options.
In much of early modern Europe, for most of recorded time, what one did
occupationally (i.e., one's career) was essentially determined by
birth. There was very little choice involved.
The modern concept of a career originated in the mid to late 19th
century. The advent of the word career precisely coincides with the
expansion of occupational choices. With improved agricultural methods,
more food could be produced by fewer people, thereby allowing some
subset of the people laboring in the fields to pursue other forms of
employment. Technological innovations (like the steam engine) enabled
new modes of production (e.g., factories) that expanded the work
Nowadays, both formal education (including college) and jobs/careers
are experiencing a relatively rapid pace of change. We want our
precollege educational system to prepare students for this changing
education and job/career world. We need to examine reform movements
such as CCSS in light of how they help prepare students for this rapid
pace of change.
The Next Newsletter in This Series
The next article in this IAE Newsletter series will provide
brief summaries of assessment and a number of other topics not covered
in previous articles. It will be the final article in the CCSS series.
David Moursund earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University
of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught in the Mathematics Department and
Computing Center at Michigan State University for four years before
joining the faculty at the University of Oregon. See his vita at see http://iae-pedia.org/David_Moursund.
A few highlights of his professional career include founding the
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), serving as
ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship
publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was a major professor or co-major professor of 82 doctoral students.
He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds
of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iae-pedia.org/David_Moursund_Books. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops.
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About Information Age Education,
Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to
improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world.
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a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, a Blog
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