The U.S. Common Core State Standards: TESOL’s Perspectives Locally & Globally

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative is a significant education initiative in the United States and has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The CCSS cover English language arts and mathematics, and now there is movement to establish CCSS in other subjects such as science. I am writing this blog on the CCSS from two perspectives: as the current president of TESOL International Association and as a TESOL professional from outside the United States.

TESOL has taken a leading role in discussions and initiatives regarding the impact of the CCSS on English language learners and ESL teachers.

Just this year, TESOL organized a meeting in February in our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, USA with a group of professionals including teachers, administrators, and researchers to discuss the impact of the CCSS on the role of ESL teachers. The outcome of the meeting was a series of interesting findings which I hope you will all read in this press release and in this document (PDF).

TESOL also produced an Issue Brief in March providing an “Overview of CCSS Initiatives for ELLs” (PDF). In June, TESOL hosted an academy which featured a series of workshops on different aspects of the CCSS at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. On 27 June 2013, TESOL Executive Director Dr. Rosa Aronson posted a blog entitled “TESOL and the CCSS: Let’s Not Give Up,” discussing the pros and cons of the CCSS and concluding that in spite of all the challenges, these standards are “the most promising policy” for ELLs.

Finally, leading TESOL researchers are now working on producing a professional paper on the CCSS which is expected to be published in 2014 and will definitely provide a significant contribution to the field.

From an international perspective, I find the discussion about the U.S. experience with CCSS very interesting; the initiative presents, in my opinion, a model that balances between centralized and decentralized curriculum approaches. Many countries in the world follow a centralized approach and adopt a school national curriculum where there is a specific set scope and sequence of study in each subject for all grades that meet national standards. The main advantage of a national curriculum is that it provides a common basis to compare students’ performances from different parts of a country, yet there are also disadvantages. One of the disadvantages of a national curriculum is that the uniform approach to teaching and learning results in a lack of flexibility and contextualization of content at the local level. Students have little opportunity to learn to apply knowledge and skills acquired to real-life problems.

The CCSS model is not a national curriculum. The CCSS is a set of standards that specify what students should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade. Obviously, schools in the United States can adopt any curriculum they choose to enable students to meet the CCSS. Therefore, the curriculum a school chooses will take into account the local context as well as the set standards. This seems to be a very attractive model, combining the strengths of the centralized and decentralized curriculum approaches; I am following with great interest the outcomes of this U.S. initiative. I would be very interested in hearing your opinions about the CCSS, whether you are from the United States or from any other country in the world.

About Deena Boraie

Deena Boraie
Deena Boraie is the dean of the School of Continuing Education at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and president of TESOL International Association. She is a language testing expert and teaches research methods in the MA/PhD Applied Linguistics Program at Cairo University.
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4 Responses to The U.S. Common Core State Standards: TESOL’s Perspectives Locally & Globally

  1. Huw Jarvis says:

    Where’s the balance in this debate? Why not invite someone like Stephen Krashen to offer his insights?

    • Deena Boraie Deena Boraie says:

      Dear Huw Jarvis, as I wrote at the end of my blog I am very interested in hearing the opinions of others and therefore, I would love to hear Stephen Krashen’s insights.

  2. Cynthia Douglas, PhD says:

    The Common Core Standards may be an attractive model but it is lacking in prepping the teacher work force for implementing it. It may serve as a solid set of distinct guidelines but if teacher are not well-equipped in every sense of the word to utilize those guidelines then they mean absolutely nothing. The United States is not Finland, it is much more diverse and has to deal with a plethora of issues that other countries that have said success in education do not. The Common Core is not going to”level the playing field” for America.

    • Rosa Aronson Rosa Aronson says:

      Dear Dr. Douglas,

      I couldn’t agree with you more that the Common Core State Standards initiative has done a very poor job of preparing teachers for this new paradigm. TESOL and other associations, like the Council of the Great City Schools, have done a lot of work to fill this enormous gap. Both ESL and content area teachers will need robust professional development and a strong voice at the table to make the CC work for English language learners.

      As for the comparison with Finland, although it is true that the population of that country is less diverse from a demographic perspective, it had to overcome an achievement gap along socioeconomic status lines. Other countries, like Canada, do better than the U.S. while educating very diverse student populations. I think it’s important to recognize that international comparisons have their limitations but also point out problems that can actually be overcome. In the U.S., for instance, the best students compete very well with students in high performing countries. But the lowest performing students do not and their results, averaged with the higher performers, end up placing us behind where we could be. So the issue for us is to close the achievement gap, which has been hurting low-income students and English language learners. These students deserve better than what we give them. Educational policies have an enormous impact on educational outcomes.

      Thank you for your insights!
      Rosa Aronson
      TESOL Executive Director

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