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.