In today’s world, all students must be prepared to be successful in college and the workforce. Michigan voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010 to make this a reality. As the state transitions to the new standards, the topics below answer key questions about what Common Core means for Michigan.

Q: What are the Common Core State Standards?

Common Core was developed by state education leaders, with input from teachers, parents, administrators, education experts and others and were intended to be widely shared. Based on the highest state standards in the nation, Common Core provides clear, consistent K-12 expectations about what students are expected to learn at each grade level to be on track for college or career after high school.

Prior to the Common Core, every state had its own unique standards in math and English language arts, resulting in widely varied learning levels from one state to the next, and even within each state. Different Michigan communities and even different classrooms within a single school often covered wildly different topics in math or reading at the same grade level. Common Core brings consistency to chaos, and helps ensure our students can compete for jobs with peers in Michigan, the U.S. and abroad.

Q: Why is Common Core right for Michigan?

Over the past decade, Michigan students of different races, ethnicities and income levels have fallen further behind their peers in other states. Michigan students now perform among the bottom tier of states in national testing, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card. Michigan business leaders, meanwhile, report having trouble filling mid- to higher-skilled jobs because applicants lack the knowledge and critical-thinking skills these positions demand. Consider:

  • High school graduates: Michigan employers say many candidates don’t have the skills required, even for entry level employment. The days when students could go straight from high school graduation to a family supporting job are vanishing. Today, nearly every good job requires some level of postsecondary credential or training.
  • Community College: Roughly 37% of students entering Michigan community colleges in 2010 enrolled in remedial courses. This required them to pay for courses that did not earn college credit, making it far more likely they will drop out before graduating.
  • Colleges and universities: Less than 1-in-5 Michigan high school graduates are college ready in all tested subjects.

Michigan students deserve better. Common Core standards are drawn from the highest state standards in the nation and informed by the standards of top-achieving countries. They will help ensure that our students, regardless of where they live or what school they attend, are learning all they need to know for success after high school.

Q: What are some differences students and families will see under Common Core?

  • Common Core focuses more on critical thinking and problem solving, and less on memorizing facts and being tested on them.
  • Teachers will cover fewer topics, but will have the time to explore those topics more deeply, creating the kind of rich learning environment in which students can thrive.
  • Families will see less of the “mile-wide, inch-deep” approach to learning that students experienced in the past
  • In math, teachers will focus on fewer concepts and skills – there will be less emphasis on memorizing formulas and theories, and more time spent truly understanding concepts, and how they apply to real life.
  • In English, students will read increasingly more challenging texts. Teachers will ask them less about their opinion on what they read, with more focus on citing evidence from the text to support their arguments.
  • There will be new statewide tests to assess what students have learned under the new standards. To be effective, Michigan must invest in high-quality assessments aligned to these higher standards. The goal is to provide more honest, actionable and timely information for teachers, parents and students. The tests will allow teachers to monitor students’ progress and more quickly adapt their teaching methods. Michigan is working with more than 20 states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to design these new tests. These online tests will replace Michigan’s antiquated MEAP exam.
  • Michigan taxpayers stand to save money because educators can share high-quality classroom materials and classroom resources with others in Michigan and in other Common Core states. In the past, states like Michigan were at a disadvantage in leveraging the market for quality materials. Common Core states can now flex their collective muscle and demand curricula and tools that match our higher standards.

Q: Aside from shared resources, are their other advantages to states having consistent standards?

Yes. Chief among them is the ability to compare student results across states. Consistent standards allow parents to see how their child’s school stacks up with schools across the nation. Michigan will know how a sixth grader in Ann Arbor compares with a sixth grader in Grand Rapids or Tallahassee or Seattle. Michigan students will be better prepared to compete with peers across the country and around the world.

In low-income and disadvantaged communities, the rigor of standards and expectations is often much lower than in more stable and affluent communities. Indeed, it is not unusual for standards and expectations in one classroom – say, in Algebra I – to be wildly different from those in another Algebra I classroom in the same school, regardless of community. Common Core helps level the playing field, giving every student the opportunity to meet high expectations.

Consistent standards are also valued by highly mobile families, including those in the military. Children of active-duty military personnel move 6-9 times on average between kindergarten and high school graduation. These children face the social challenge of being the new kid in school and often the anxiety of having a deployed parent. For the more than 20,000 military connected children in Michigan, and roughly 1.5 million nationally, changing schools can mean being far ahead of their classmates in one state, or hopelessly behind in another. These children, like all children, deserve predictability and rigor.

Q: Is Common Core a set of “national standards”?

Common Core is a voluntary, state-led initiative initiated by governors and state education leaders. Congress, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education were not involved in the development of Common Core, nor have they mandated Common Core adoption. At least 45 states have come together to adopt Common Core, but not all states have chosen to participate. The Michigan State Board of Education approved Common Core in 2010 following public debate and review, and concluded that Common Core is more rigorous and clear than the old standards.

Q: How rigorous are the Common Core standards?

Too many students are graduating from high school unprepared to successfully participate in college or the workforce. Consequently, Common Core standards were developed to make sure our students can understand and apply math, reading and writing skills at increasingly complex levels as they journey from kindergarten through high school.

In math, for example, Common Core standards closely resemble the standards used in the world’s highest-achieving nations. William Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University who helped benchmark the standards, notes that students in leading math countries “learn to master a few topics each year before moving on to more advanced mathematics,” ensuring that these students understand basic theory before building on this knowledge in subsequent years.

Q: Were teachers involved in the process and development of the standards?

Yes. The American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations have endorsed and supported this initiative. The American Federation of Teachers also organized groups of teachers to provide specific feedback and comments on the standards during their development. In addition, there were opportunities for teachers to comment on the standards by submitting feedback during the public comment periods.

Q: What is the timeline for implementing Common Core?

Common Core was adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010 and local school districts have been implementing them in the years since. Full implementation is set for completion by the 2014-2015 school year. The Legislature is currently debating a high-quality testing to be used by Michigan for its assessment.  Additionally, the state Department of Education must ensure that teachers and school districts have the training and professional development they deserve to help our students succeed.