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The Common Core Curriculum in a Flatter, Faster World


The common core curriculum has been a long time coming. While much has been said about the challenges of its implementation, one thing is clear: the common core curriculum is a sure sign, as Thomas Friedman has reminded us, that the world is flatter and faster and those flattening elements are having an impact on the steps me must take to be competitive, which includes more thoughtfully examining what is happening in every classroom in the United States.

What makes the common core so unique is the fact that for the first time ever there is a national conversation about the specific learning outcomes in math and language arts. While we have had recommendations in the past from national organizations in math and language arts, we have never established an agreed upon set of specific learning outcomes in these subjects that all schools in the United States are asked to achieve (source). Other countries like China, Singapore, and Norway do have a published national curriculum, and those countries all rank higher in both math and language arts than the United States (OECD, 2014).

So why did it take so long? The answer is simple. Local control. One of the more formative aspects of K-12 public education in the United States is our adherence to the importance of local control (Edgar, 2008). Local communities are afforded the opportunity to establish schools that meet their standards and have choices and priorities matching local preferences. This has been a wonderful attribute that allows a local school to indeed create learning opportunities that prepare the student to be a meaningful contributor to the local community.

The downside of all this local control has been uneven expectations and, at times, exceedingly low standards (Duncan, 2012). Before the common core curriculum, it wasn’t uncommon to find high schools where graduation didn’t require more than two years of math. That math experience wouldn’t necessarily have even included Algebra.

These lower expectations may have been acceptable in local school districts and surrounding communities based on regional jobs and expectations for work standards in the near future. However, that was then. Today, the internationalization of almost everything we do has made the working environment excruciatingly competitive and is forcing schools throughout the United States to broaden their horizons and indeed think about their curriculum against a broader national and at times international standard as they prepare students for an economy that will be altogether different than the economy most of us grew up in. Local control was based on the assumption that the local community would inherit the benefits (Edgar, 2008). Today, there is a much greater level of mobility and competition from all corners of the world are emerging.

Indeed Thomas Friedman was right. The world is getting flatter, faster, and more deeply interconnected. And the common core curriculum, although imperfect, is helping all students get ready for it.

Duncan, A. (2013, June). Duncan Pushes Back on Attacks on Common Core Standards. Speech presented at the American Society of News Editors Annual Convention, Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.

Edgar, W.G. (2008). 21st Century Challenges to Local Control. Presented to the Washington State School Directors Association.

OECD (2014), PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can do – Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014), PISA, OECD Publishing.

Trends in K-12 Education: Gamification of the Classroom

Over the last century, the K-12 classroom has evolved into something almost completely unrecognizable to previous generations. From blackboards to SMART boards, quill pens to laptops and tablets, and most recently paper-and-pencil homework assignments to game-based instruction, the classroom is now a whole new world. Teachers be advised – the days of the traditional lecture in the classroom are gone. In the eyes of the K-12 student, gamification is the new standard of excellence.

Take a look at the examples of gamification success below. You just might find yourself running to Toys “R” Us for the latest gaming craze!

The Classic Board Game

Just because you’re using games in the classroom, doesn’t mean they need to incorporate a new-fangled technology tool. Sometimes the most effective games are the classics – in this case, a board game reminiscent of Risk (without the world domination theme, of course!). Become inspired by this 4th grade classroom’s game “World Peace,” and start brainstorming ideas on how you can reuse everything in your game closet! If you get creative, almost any lesson plan can involve a new twist on a classic board game.


Gaming Systems with an Education Focus

These days, almost every child has some form of gaming system and teachers are learning to take advantage of the new generation’s skillset in the classroom. Whether it’s the brand new model of the XBOX 360, or the original Nintendo, the level of engagement these games provide cannot be ignored. Parents can even jump on the bandwagon by providing educational games for their kids to enjoy at home, such as these Edutainment games by Nintendo.

Check out this teacher’s innovative take on the use of the Nintendo DS gaming system in the classroom.


Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom

Not every game needs to be subject-focused. Complete with a personal avatar for each student, Dojo points for good behavior, and an easy-to-use reporting system for teachers, Class Dojo provides a virtual arena for rewarding behavioral improvement in the classroom.

Take a look at this Class Dojo trailer, or visit for more detailed information on how this can improve behavior in your classroom.

Common Core State Standards: Helping or Hurting K-12 Education?

If you’re a K-12 educator, you’ve likely been discussing the Common Core State Standards with your school administration and what it will mean to you as a teacher and to your students.

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “these standards have the capacity to change education in the best of ways – setting loose the creativity and innovation of educators at the local level, raising the bar for students, strengthening our economy and building a clearer path to the middle class.”

However, not everyone shares our Secretary of Education’s point of view. There have been mixed feelings about the Common Core State Standards since they were introduced in 2007.

Some feel that the implementation of such standards is a federal takeover of schools (even though the federal government did not create them), while others feel that having more rigorous, high-quality learning standards evens the playing field among states and will benefit our students and our country long term.

What They Are

Figure 1 Image from

Figure 1 Image from

The Common Core State Standards is not a federally mandated program. In 2007, a group of governors and state education leaders created the Common Core Standards “to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share.” The standards were designed in part due to the declining rank of America in education and in college completion rates. The Common Core strives to prepare students to be college and career ready so the U.S. can compete in a global economy.

Today, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity voluntarily adopted these standards; however, many states have not fully implemented them. For example, Pennsylvania adopted the standards July 2, 2010, but they are not expected to fully implement them until school year 2013-2014.

According to Duncan, “When these standards are fully implemented, a student who graduates from a high school in any one of these states – who is performing at standard – will be ready to attend and succeed in his or her state university without remedial education. Historically, in far too many communities, more than half of those who actually graduated high school needed remedial help in college.”

The Impact on Teachers

The Common Core State Standards are just that – standards. In other words, this is what students should academically know by a certain age. Common Core is not a change to curriculum, which is what teachers teach to help students meet academic standards. By law, the federal government is prohibited from creating or mandating curricula.

Dr. Renee Aitken, director of assessment for the School of Education at NCU, explains, “Teachers are encouraged to be more creative in reaching the standards. For K-12 teachers, the Common Core Standards will require evaluations, but each state is responsible for making up the evaluation points.”

According to, “Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms.”

The Impact on Students

With Common Core, students will be required to demonstrate more critical thinking skills so this may change how and what they are learning. The goal is to fully prepare students  for college and a career in today’s environment as more jobs require a deeper level of thinking and comprehension.

“Common Core is a touchy subject for some diverse groups – parents, teacher educators, teachers, administrators, government officials, and concerned citizens,” said Aitken. “It is very early in the adoption process to know if implementing it is a good or a bad thing.”

Are you a K-12 teacher, parent or administrator? If so, we’d love to know what you think about the Common Core State Standards in our comments section below.


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