Bradley Scott, Ph.D.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). According to the NGA and the CCSSO, they received initial feedback on the draft standards from national organizations representing, but not limited to, teachers, post-secondary educators (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
These Common Core standards define knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate from high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. Forty-five states have adopted the standards.
The NGA and CCSSO state that the standards are aligned with college and work expectations; are clear, understandable and consistent; include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills; build on strengths and lessons of current state standards; are informed by other top performing countries so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and are evidence-based.
The standards are intended to lay a foundation for system-wide education reform as they bring consistency across states and are likely more rigorous than most state standards. Designed to reflect knowledge most critical for college and career success, the standards should increase the coherence and rigor of what is expected of U.S. students. The potential for academic benefit to all students regardless of their race, gender, national origin or other characteristics could be both impressive and powerful.
However, for the Common Core to produce the benefits above, there are some concerns that must be addressed. The CCSSO and the NGA admit that the standards do not address interventions for students who are currently well below grade level, do not delineate the full range of support for English language learners, and do not describe how teachers should teach. These holes raise obvious civil rights concerns for the groups of students for whom the standards have not been designed. They also speak to teachers who may not have the requisite skills to teach in culturally competent ways.
There are other civil rights concerns and thus additional questions that should be raised using an equity lens (Scott, 2012). The equity context is comprised of the systems and structures a school district puts into place to ensure that no learner is denied the fair and equitable benefit of a quality, sound educational experience afforded to all other students regardless of race, gender, national origin, language, economic level and special need. The equity lens may not be focused in this case. A key factor to consider is how the implementation of the Common Core impacts all learners.
- What might create a negative or adverse impact on any identifiable population of students?
- How do we address any adverse impact?
- How might that adverse impact be avoided?
- What precautions should we take as we move forward?
- How do we monitor our work so that we produce comparable outcomes for all students?
The equity lens is a bit hazy as well. We need to be sure that we pose the right kinds of questions about various groups of learners in the nation’s schools.
- In the implementation of the Common Core, where do English language learners start?
- Where do low performers start?
- What do these standards look like for students in rural and remote areas?
- What do these standards really look like for students in inner-city (distressed urban) versus suburban areas?
- What do these standards look like for students in tribal settings on and off reservations?
- What do these standards look like for students in alternative school settings?
Poor teaching quality has been failing some students for a long while. To ensure comparable high outcomes for all learners that give them world-class competencies, our teachers will need to:
- have knowledge and skills in first and second language acquisition;
- have skills for teaching the challenged learner;
- practice pedagogy that supports success with under-performing learners;
- use culturally competent pedagogy; and
- better align practice with research, philosophy, values, expectations for success and commitment to all learners regardless of their characteristics.
High quality, dynamic leadership is key. Leadership will need to think seriously and act decisively about:
- teacher evaluation systems that transform and lift up the practice;
- the principal as learning leader who guides teaching and learning, not just manages it;
- protection of civil rights under the law for non-discrimination in all educational programs;
- guarantees of equal protection under the law to equal treatment, the right to learn and the appropriate distribution of resources to support excellence for all (not just some); and
- the critical and important role regarding accountability where real answers are provided to the question: Who’s responsible, who’s to blame?
Transforming systems requires moving from one place to another with the right intentionality while dislodging old habits – seeing with a different lens for action and being part of a professional learning and support community that asserts what is right, fair and equitable for all learners.
The Common Core standards can be a force that finally begins to move all students to excellence in academic performance and world class competency if we stand on the absolute belief in excellence for all, no excuses, no compromise, and nothing less than excellence and equity guaranteed for all.
Listen to our podcast episode: A Civil Rights Look at the Common Core – Episode 117
Council of Chief State School Officers. Implementing the Common Core Standards (ICCS), web page (Washington, D.C.: Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012).
National Governors Association. Common Core State Standards Initiative, web page (Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association, 2012).
Scott, B. “The Challenge of Seeing – Shaping the Sixth Generation of Civil Rights and Educational Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2012).
Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior education associate and director of the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at
[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]