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Why Common Core State Standards?

by NCTM President Henry (Hank) KepnerKepner-100x140
NCTM Summing Up, September 2009

The growing public debate about consistent standards for mathematics education has taken several twists and turns over the past three years. Building on NCTM’s earlier standards, the 2006 publication of NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest for Coherence has framed many of the subsequent discussions about the larger issues of curricular consistency and coherence.

This spring, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) started the Common Core State Standards initiative to develop a common content focus at each grade level, starting with mathematics and English/language arts. Two major reasons for this effort are (1) the adverse effects of a lack of curricular consistency from state to state and district to district on students’ learning—particularly as a result of an increasingly mobile population; and (2) a concern that students are leaving high school without demonstrating college and career readiness.

This initiative raises two often conflicting issues: curricular coherence and local control of educational decisions. Before launching this project, the NGA set out to bridge these two by getting governors to agree in principle that if a common set of standards could be developed, they would use them in their respective states. To date, 47 states have agreed to use the common standards, with some flexibility permitted.

Although the early work on the first draft of college and career readiness standards was done by a small group, NCTM has been directly involved in providing substantive feedback to the initial draft and expects to play a continuing role in shaping the initiative.[link to lead article]

The Common Core’s College and Career Readiness Standards draft is scheduled for public review this month. Following the review, a revised document will be sent to the governor and chief school officer of each state for action. I urge you as a member, along with your state and local Affiliates, to be vigilant for its release and engage actively in your state standards review process. This fall, the NGA and CCSSO will begin writing K–12 grade-level standards, scheduled for release in 2010.

More important than mere consistency is the quality of the final standards. I am confident that NCTM’s ongoing involvement and influence in this initiative as it moves forward will contribute to its quality. Where there are areas of concern and disagreement, NCTM can provide the ideal forum for sharing perspectives, conducting productive discussions, and articulating positions.

I encourage you to be in touch with NCTM, your local NCTM Affiliate, and state officials as this fast-moving policy evolves. As a teacher, you have a special opportunity to make your voice heard—not only within your state but also by the developers of the common standards. Watch for the College and Career Readiness Standards to be posted for public comment later this month at

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