Common Core is too hard because it’s not for average kids

Average kids will eat what you put on the table. They have an average height, weight, and temperament. They’ll learn from anyone. They’re well-rounded and hit the academic and growth benchmarks almost always. CCSS isn’t for average kids. That’s why some parents hate it and why it’s not working.


When CCSS hit the web back in 2009, I was really excited. Finally, some standards I could work with. They were holistic and fit perfectly with the gradual move that had already begun towards Big Ideas and Essential Questions as in UbD. I was ready to not have to nit-pick the minutiae and allow for nuances in learning.


Common Core standards fit perfectly with the inquisitive nature of gifted children. They’re also a natural fit for underachievers (gifted and not). Understand a concept and you’re covered. Understand more at your level and you reach the joy of learning. Underneath it all though, there really are few truly average children. There’s always something inside a child that wants to learn more-if we let him. With CC, learning is focused on a few key ideas and making connections to those key ideas just broadens your understanding in so many ways. At the time, I felt education was finally on the right path. Somehow we’ve lost our way…again.


Why is learning the phases of the moon important for third grade, yet discovering why the stars are different colors isn’t? It’s a purely arbitrary notion. What if my students were more interested in stars or the moons of Jupiter? Sometimes standards were chosen because they were “relatable” for students, but ask any 4th grader about the American Revolution and unless he’s a history buff, he’s probably missing a big part of the foundational purpose for learning this particular standard. Other standards are chosen because simply, they are on the test.


Common Core aims to get away from minutiae and towards connections. 


Schools have a pretty arbitrary dictum of knowledge that that often leaves some students overwhelmed and others underwhelmed. CCSS fixes that issue. It gives all students an entry point to learning, builds foundations, and encourages making connections to new ideas. It reaches out to encompass key concepts like classification, problem solving, and reading with different intentions, but allows entry points to these understandings in a multitude of ways. Where some teachers see a totally new idea of teaching and learning, I see what should have existed from the beginning. I don’t see narrow; I see expansive. I don’t see superficial, I see deep. It’s a big, beautiful ocean of discovery.


If you’re still reading this, you’re probably in a state of outrage, but for all of the wrong reasons. One of the reasons I left teaching is because there’s a huge disconnect between what education should be and what it’s doing. My hope is that the micromanagement that is beginning to bother those still in education will indeed prove to be the proverbial straw. It’s indicative of the whole of schooling and it’s time for a reboot. It’s also an outrage how the system is shredding the intention of Common Core. I’ve seen propaganda labeled “Common Core” that’s as bad as the Ted2 premise of putting a teddy bear in an R-rated movie. That’s just messed up!



Before you mention it, yes, the testing timetable and implementation are abominable, but the intention to move to open-ended is correct. In the meantime, teachers and students are walking a tightrope between two camps of learning. The tell me, show me and I’ll do it camp and the explore the possibilities with this focus camp. It’s like giving kids directions on how to play with friends or how to build a fort. You can take the fun out of everything and slap on the learning tag if you like, but you won’t fool me.


What if they learn the wrong thing? You mean, they don’t learn exactly what you want in the exact way you presented? Good. Guess what? When my son pipes up and says, “Hey mom, that coordinate graph for my achievements in coding is different from the one in geometry” I know he’s learning. I don’t have to whip out a coordinate grid and demonstrate it. He gets it. We talk it through. He tells me what he notices and together we’re actually exploring WHY Minecraft and traditional elementary math are different. It’s become an exploration instead of a hit and miss lesson. The regurgitation model just doesn’t cut it for some kids.


This is where true knowledge and understanding get measured. If we can lessen our stranglehold on learning (instead of this excruciating snail’s pace of perpetual dangling between two worlds), more learning will happen.  Right now, students are, in reality, covering all bases by using the tests of the past and the tests of the future. No wonder they’re in a constant state of pull. The adults don’t know what’s going on; how would the students? My hope is as we move to the future, students can reveal connections and demonstrate skills and understandings at their own level. No overwhelming, no underwhelming. Perfect. Just for you. No matter what you write, if it’s connected to the topic, it’s worthy. Imagine for a moment, giving a question like the following to a group of elementary school children.


Animals can be classified, or grouped into a class. One such class is mammals. Explain what you know about mammals and how classifying animals helps you to understand them. 


Child 1- So, some students will stick to the topic of mammals. They’ll list the characteristics of mammals and probably name some familiar mammals. They may even comment that people are mammals and mention they all have these common traits and be done. Great. Basic knowledge and understanding. Check.


Child 2- Another student may do the same, but also extend his understanding to contrast mammals with other classes of animals like reptiles or amphibians. He may begin to name animals and give characteristics that identify reasons for these classifications without overtly stating the distinctions. This student understands the contrasts between different kinds of classes and has, in effect, moved beyond the basic skill level demanded, but can stretch his understandings even more.


Child 3-Another student may do the same and seeing he only has 30 minutes or so to write, his mammal paragraph is refined to mention characteristics that identify mammals and lists several- in a more succinct paragraph. He moves on to mention other classifications such as reptiles and amphibians; again, listing characteristics and contrasting those with the mammalian characteristics. He’s thinking much deeper; adding more depth to the part of the question that asks to identify the purpose for the classification. But, he can do more too.


Child 4- Another student may put all of the previous knowledge into a paragraph or two and, if encouraged, may elaborate and connect his understanding of classes to other classes in his environment such as his classes at school, the classification of buttons as clothing components, or the classifications of people. He has far surpassed the standard, but because he is allowed and even encouraged to expand his knowledge, he does. Everyone in the class can benefit from his insights too.


Every single one of these examples addresses the question; the big idea. Every child has more or less met the requirements, yet has been allowed, and even encouraged to stretch beyond. THAT is the reason I embraced the Common Core standards before their implementation. I see so many possibilities and for awhile I pursued these ideas in my classroom.


Here’s a current standard: CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.G.A.2
Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles.


Above, is a 4th grade standard for math, but it’s more of an exploration that begins with, “What do we know about two-dimensional figures?” One approach is to generate all a student knows about 2d figures and like the mammal example, go on to list characteristics that group them. It’s the approach I used with my homeschooling son this year and with my students in class back in 2010. Connecting the previous science question above with the math standard becomes a natural exploration into classification; which is, in fact, the TRUE intention of learning. True learning takes isolated learning and extends it to other situations applying the same basic reasoning.


I could write for days about education.  I often don’t because I find my audience limited in understandings like mine. This is deservedly so,  since I have a different skill set and experience than the average person. It’s difficult for me to put into words what exists in my mind.  I find myself rambling to cover every connection I can in order to reach the masses (which was an asset in the classroom), yet also trying not to over-state my case and bore others (which happened in the classroom too). The whole move away from standardization and move towards customization will involve growing pains. The CC standards are NOT one of those pains; unless you fail to understand the intention, the freedom, the flexibility that they truly represent. Where some see uncharted territory, I see a world of possibilities. 


Average kids, your time is drawing to a close. Yes, you’ll still be learning, but you’ll also be stretching yourself in ways you haven’t even imagined.


I do realize my stance is unconventional (welcome to my world) and goes against the masses (again, welcome), but my lifelong passion is education and frankly, the CC standards are one of the few “new ideas” that I actually find encouraging in the world of education. That being said, a bureaucracy can surely wreck the best of intentions and along with the misunderstandings of many parents, teachers, and students, it’s having a hey-day wrecking Common Core.


As a child, I grew to loathe testing unless it was customized to my interests. Usually it wasn’t, so I began to build connections to reach my knowledge set and demonstrate my understanding. Tests asked many of the wrong questions for me, but I was lucky enough to have a few teachers who supported my independence of thought.  Actually, several teachers supported everyone’s independence of thought by one simple addition to their formal subject testing. It came in  the form of an additional essay question which read, “Tell me what you know. ..” It was a chance to demonstrate learning beyond the test constraints. Mind you, it tied to the subject matter, but it allowed me to release my pent up knowledge and understanding. It was heaven and with great relish, I felt as if I could write for days. I went from being one of the first students finished to being one of the last. I had an audience and intended to give them an earful- just as I’ve done with you.


While I can’t hope to change the world; maybe I can encourage you to think about CC in a slightly different way. Please use your own knowledge and understanding to contemplate my words. That’s all a teacher can hope for.

4 thoughts on “Common Core is too hard because it’s not for average kids

  1. Way to go Lisa! Would love to see a world of teachers encouraging the “release of pent up knowledge and understanding” as you so brilliantly put it, rather than blindly or though necessity setting limits or restrictions on student expression.


  2. As I understood it from the CCSSM documents their purpose was to broaden and deepen the view of stuff, but not to tell teacher how to do it. They were clearly scared to do this, but the consequences could have been predicted. My favorite invention is “Now, come along, children, today we are going to learn the explanation of long division”. Have a look at Eureka Math, but have your sick bag handy !


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