Fight for the Soul of the Common Core Standards | IDEA

Fight for the Soul of the Common Core Standards

Posted by Dana Bennis on Dec 18, 2012 - 06:15 AM

This is a guest blog post by Susan Sandler, who works at the Sandler Foundation and leads funding related to education policy as well as other areas.  Previously, Susan spent 17 years working for racial justice in education as an organizational leader, policy advocate, researcher, professional development provider, school therapist, teacher, and activist.  Susan is a member of the boards of directors for the Center for American Progress and El Puente.

Do the common core standards discourage teachers from making connections between academics and students’ lives?  When I first read the guiding materials for the standards, that’s what I thought it was saying.  I understood it to say that the proper way to teach students to read  was to ask them to leave at the classroom door everything they experienced and lived, so it wouldn’t interfere with analyzing the text.

But then I gave the materials more of a “close reading,” and I realized that I had misunderstood.  I was deeply concerned that many people would draw the same false conclusion that I had about the common core standards.  So I co-authored an article (requires subscription to view full text) to help get the word out.  

My co-author, Zaretta Hammond, and I explain that whenever we think and learn we are always accessing and building on what we already know, and the more powerfully we make those connections, the better we learn.  And that means that everyone of every racial, cultural, class, and linguistic background already has knowledge that will make them better readers and analyzers.  Finally, these ideas are completely consistent with the intentions of the common core standards.

I see this article as part of a bigger struggle for the soul of the common core standards.  A colleague of mine challenged me awhile ago with this statement: “The common core standards could be about liberation, but only if people step up to define it that way.”  These standards are still new, and what they mean have not been completely defined and interpreted yet.  

When the standards call for critical thinking, will that mean that we should prepare students be good analysts at work, or does it also mean that students can form independent conclusions about what is going on in our society?  Is the rigor of the standards, something that focuses exclusively on the ivory tower or does it embrace the lives of learners?  Will students end up with the skills for following more high-tech and sophisticated orders or for being change agents for a just society?

While nothing in the standards declares that they are for the kind of ”liberatory learning” I described, they could support this kind of learning.  But a critical mass of us would need to actively shape and interpret what they are about.  

P.S.  If you are interested in these issues, check out my co-author, Zaretta’s blog.

Susan can send a PDF of the full article to anyone interested.  Email Susan at sesandler at

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