TESOL and the CCSS: Let’s Not Give Up

Recently, the media have reported a mounting chorus against the U.S. Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Opponents of the CCSS state that the initiative is an intrusion of the Federal Government into local authority, that it’s really an attempt to impose a national curriculum, and that it simply costs too much to implement.

Personally, I find it hard to buy into many of these arguments because they are built on inaccuracies.

As all TESOL professionals understand, standards are not the same as curriculum. Moreover, while the U.S. Department of Education has provided support for them, the CCSS are not a mandate from the Federal Government. (In fact, the Department of Education is forbidden by law to develop a national curriculum, and several states have elected not to adopt the CCSS.) What prompted this state-driven initiative was the realization that all students deserve a coherent and rigorous set of expectations, that the status quo was a disjointed set of standards with the most egregious results affecting the students we dedicate ourselves to: English learners.

Are there limitations and challenges associated with the CCSS? Of course. Teachers have been an afterthought and their voices need to be part of the discussion in the implementation phase. Development tools need to be created. Students with limited English proficiency are still too often viewed as a homogeneous group with no differentiated needs, and judged within a deficit framework, with no regard for the cultural richness they bring to the classroom. Many questions remain about the assessments under development and the role they will play in accountability, policy, and teacher evaluation. Given the role and impact high-stakes assessments have already played in the United States, the anxiety is understandable, and so the implementation of the CCSS and the accompanying assessments should be executed cautiously and with all due diligence.

Yet, I believe that the CCSS, with all its imperfections, is the most promising policy for our English language students, who deserve the same high expectations as their peers. For too long, our students have been held to a different set of standards.

They deserve a fair chance.

They deserve our support.

The CCSS is their best chance and our best chance at fulfilling the promise of education, and that won’t happen for ELLs unless we as TESOL professionals are seated at the table.

I welcome your feedback and thoughts.

About Rosa Aronson

Rosa Aronson
Rosa Aronson is Executive Director of the TESOL International Association (TESOL), a professional membership association of 13,000 serving teachers of English to speakers of other languages both in the internationally. Aronson holds a doctorate in Social Foundations of Education from the University of Virginia, a master’s degree in Education from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in English Linguistics from the University of Aix-en-Provence, France. During her early career, she taught English as a foreign language in French schools. Her book, "At Risk Students Defy the Odds," published by Scarecrow Press in 2001, chronicles the resiliency journey of former students who beat the odds against them. When not working, Aronson likes to scuba dive, practice yoga, read and travel. She is bilingual (French) and has knowledge of Italian and German.
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6 Responses to TESOL and the CCSS: Let’s Not Give Up

  1. Seen from the outside (France – where we are looking forward to your visit!) I can’t help wondering to what extent the ELL common core standards affect ESL.
    Are all of your second language learners heading for an education in the US?
    Again, speaking as a non-initiated, do you have a link handy to the CC in ELL, (Google searches reflect far more the discussion than the content) and could I ask you if ESL is included in these “standards”
    (It’s idle curiosity really because here in France we are obviously in an EFL situation)

    • Rosa Aronson Rosa Aronson says:

      Dear Elizabeth,
      Thank you for your message and excellent questions.
      The Common Core State Standards raise proficiency expectations for all students, including English Learners (ELs), in key content areas. Because of the growing numbers of ELs and the complexity of their profiles (English proficiency levels ranging from newcomers to highly proficient, young learners to young adults, different academic proficiency levels, among other factors) the standards are challenging since there is no roadmap to help elevate English proficiency levels of ELs, so that they can meet the rigorous expectations of the CC. TESOL has a resource page on the CC. You can view it at:
      And, yes, there are high expectations for ELs in the US. They are the fastest growing segment of the student population and it is essential for their own future and the future of this country that they reach the highest possible level of education.
      I look forward to meeting you in just a few days!
      A bientôt,

  2. Eric Roth says:

    Given the limited options at hand, strengthening the CCSS might be the only viable path forward for American English teachers working in K-12 public schools focused on improving the educational experiences of English language learners. High expectations led to greater student progress, knowledge, and performance. And, as you note, “For too long, our students have been held to a different set of standards” – especially in American public schools.

    Yet let’s also be clear. The CCSS standards have been created and TESOL input was limited – for whatever reason. Standardized exams – increasingly based on the CCSS – will play a larger and often negative role in determining student lives. The collaboration and subtle nuances that you would like to see in the CCSS may easily not become incorporated. So while positive possibilities always exist, considerable grounds for scepticism about the consequences of this pseudo-national education reform certainly exist. I can also understand why growing numbers of public school teachers would prefer to change the conversation and fear more bureaucratic standardization that remains the antithesis of genuine learning. Do we really have to pretend that this time will be different?

    • Rosa Aronson Rosa Aronson says:

      Thank you, Eric, for your comments. I appreciate this healthy dose of realism and the helpful reminder that standardized assessments could derail the intent of the CCSS. I agree that the CCSS initative was created with limited input from practitioners but it’s not too late for us to enter the conversation.
      Will it be different this time? I don’t know but we must do everything we can to ensure that it is. How many times did it take for women to gain access to higher education in the United States? How many failed attempts took place before the breakthrough occured? If previous generations of women and supporters had doubted the outcome and given up, would women earn doctoral degrees today? Similarly, our struggle to provide high level education to English Learners must never waver.
      Eric, thank you for taking the time to answer this post. Best wishes.

  3. amfoersterluu Anne Marie Foerster Luu says:

    Rosa, I agree with you. CCSS is an opportunity for us, TESOL professionals, to get involved with the challenge. The fact is the standards will open doors for us to join the greater conversations around full implementation. Are we ready to advocate for the resources, professional development, and curricula that is reflective of the needs of our students? Are we ready to support general educators with collaborative planning, UDL practices, and assessment? Of course there are some very challenging aspects of the CCSS and the resulting assessments and accountability that appears will be demoralizing and frustrating at first. However, Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework are asking us to engage students in more interactive, integrated, and interesting learning experiences that will lead to more transformative opportunities for our students. The C3 Framework specifically calls for civic action. This is an exciting time to be involved and walk with our general education colleagues in the best interests of our students.

    • Rosa Aronson Rosa Aronson says:

      Thank you for your comment, Anne Marie. I concur. The challenges should not be underestimated but the possibilities are there for students to perform at higher levels and for teachers to contribute more significantly to the education of English Learners.

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