First grade students taught by Cait Clark (South Carolina '12) at Bennettsville Primary School in Bennettsville, South Carolina.

First grade students taught by Cait Clark (South Carolina ’12) at Bennettsville Primary School in Bennettsville, SC.

I love the Common Core. In the past, this statement has elicited responses ranging from bemused skepticism to serious questions about my mental health, so allow me to qualify my statement. I do not love everything about the Common Core. I do not believe it to be the single answer to the problems plaguing education, and I have serious reservations about the speed with which it was rolled out and the impact it may have on teacher evaluations. Nonetheless, I believe the Common Core to be a net positive for education reform in the United States. So before you pass judgment on this understandably contentious policy initiative, consider the following defense.

The Common Core is vertically integrated. State standards in their current iteration rarely demonstrate a rational transition from one grade level to the next, and this current modular system of individual standard sets results in a disconcerting lack of coherence between grade levels. Some standards overlap to the point of redundancy, while others are so discontinuous as to lead students to a fragmented view of the discipline. The Common Core represents a coherent set of standards that develops a core set of skills and builds out from them. While the nuance of those standards is certainly up for debate, the linkages between them are at least purposeful and well developed.

The Common Core is rigorous. The proposition that the current crop of standardized state tests is an accurate indicator of students’ ability to succeed at our nation’s most competitive universities strikes me as patently absurd. The disparity in rigor between high school state standards and the baseline expectations for university freshman is wide, even in states with more competitive end-of-year assessments. As a teacher in California, I found myself scouring resources from other states’ programs, most often the New York Regents, the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), and the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). Even these states, while laudably setting (relatively) high benchmarks, still fell short of college readiness.

The Common Core is aligned to technological proficiency. If you’ve graduated from college at any point in the last ten years, you probably did the majority of your work on a computer. So as a high school teacher trying to design a college-ready curriculum, it felt a little bit disingenuous to integrate so little technology. The vast majority of my juniors and seniors could not even touch-type, format research papers on Microsoft Word, or derive graphs from data on Excel. The achievement gap of this generation is a literacy gap. The achievement gap of the next generation may well be a technology gap.

The Common Core is universal. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the TFA community has heard the maxim that “a child’s course in life should not be determined by her ZIP code.” So why should it be determined by her state? As a nation, why should we accept a lower benchmark for achievement for students in Tennessee or Pennsylvania (my home state) than those in New York or Massachusetts? It is the same flawed reasoning that permits lavish classrooms in Beverly Hills adjacent to dilapidated ones in Watts writ large.

The Common Core certainly has its flaws. It was perhaps rolled out too quickly, teachers were ill prepared to implement it, and it seems little thought was given to how to execute an effective transition from the old model of assessment to the new one. But for all of these shortcomings, I believe that for perhaps the first time, we’ve set the bar to the right height. The Common Core may well be over-reaching, over-ambitious, and over-zealous. But it’s a start.

It’s Common Core Week on TeacherPop! Corps members and alums will be sharing their thoughts on the new standards—check back daily for the latest.