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The Common Core: Educational Redeemer or Rainmaker?

by Julie L. Pennington, Kathryn M. Obenchain, Aimee Papola & Leia Kmitta - October 12, 2012

The Common Core State Standards are poised to guide U.S. educational practice and assessment for the coming years. This commentary examines the framing of the argument for the new standards by the constructors of the CCSS and how the alignment of resources during the implementation phase is tightly ensconced within the organizations who drafted the standards.

Framing education as in need of additional rigor and collective cohesion, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are now promoted as a redeemer for educational reform while No Child Left Behind quietly fades into the background.  As states are currently invited to pursue relief from provisions of &(NCLB) (http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility), the CCSS are poised to preside over a movement to (what are self-described as) more rigorous, more communal and more state-led standards and assessments (http://www.corestandards.org/). The CCSS are more removed from governmental oversight than NCLB via the use of non-profit organizations and state-led consortia designed to assist states in their implementation and eventual assessment of the CCSS.  While NCLB was one of the most pervasive national policies in educational history, the CCSS are quickly becoming the basis of a prevailing educational movement propelled by private entities with a national scope. In this commentary, we examine the ways and means of how the creation and dissemination of the CCSS is framed and we pose questions as to how that framing may shape the implementation of the CCSS in the years ahead.

Figure 1


Education has historically been positioned as a crucial and often endangered measure of the countrys political and economic standing (e.g., A Nation at Risk, A Nation Still at Risk, The Manufactured Crisis, NCLB). Fulfilling the obligations attached to taxing citizens to subsidize public education for all is a significant endeavor. In order to hold audiences with key stakeholders and forge ways to implement change and cohesive movements in such a sizeable complex context, education is continually subjected to ideological framing. As Lakoff & Johnson state, "Political and economic ideologies are framed in metaphorical terms. Like all other metaphors, political and economic metaphors can hide aspects of reality." (1980, Chapter 30, Section 6, para. 2). We propose that the CCSS are framed by the metaphors of recovery, stability and security.


Rigor as Recovery

Every entity involved in constructing the CCSS holds tightly to the proposition that more rigor is required in education. The National Governors Association (NGA)1, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)2, the CCSS, and various non-profits such as Partnerships for Assessing of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)3 and Achieve4 as well as the Secretary of Education all repeat this mantra as per the talking points provided by the CCSSO (http://programs.ccsso.org/link/CCSSO_Standards_Toolkit.pdf).   This argument is carefully constructed to frame schools as being in dire need of recovery from a dearth of low level expectations.


Uniformity across States as Stability

The CCSSO states, The Common Core State Standards are a fundamental first step toward ensuring that children receive the best possible education no matter where they live across the country (http://www.ccsso.org/Resources/Programs/Implementing_the_Common_Core_Standards_%28ICCS%29.html). The move toward a national set of standards is framed by a call to provide stability for all of the nations students and eliminate issues related to variations in expectations (Hirsch, 2011).


College Readiness as Security

College readiness is repeated throughout all of the organizations and proposed as a talking point by the CCSSO and touted by PARCC which states, Building on the strength of current state standards, the CCSS are designed to be focused, coherent, clear and rigorous; internationally benchmarked; anchored in college and career readiness; and evidence and research based. http://www.parcconline.org/implementation

All of these metaphors build an argument on the assumption that our education system currently lacks rigor, is unstable and vulnerable. As with any effective framing argument, opposition to these metaphors sets up a dichotomous counter argument.  If we are not for rigor then we must be for mediocrity, if we are not for uniformity then we must support chaos and of course if we do not promote college readiness then we must want students to fail. Thus the framing presses ideas forward that have not been debated and examined in depth and begs the questions: Does the educational system lack rigor? Is there a large variation in state expectations? Does altering standards relate to international, college, and career success? If so how do we know?

The framing of the solution also relies on an emphasis on state leadership supported by non-profit organizations.  The talking points of the affiliated organizations (NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, Student Achievement Partners, and PARCC) reinforce the message that states and educators led the effort (http://www.parcconline.org/implementation), implying a grassroots movement. Non-profit organizations such as Student Achievement Partners are framed as altruistic, saving students and teachers from mediocrity for free, stating We hold no intellectual property, do not compete for state contracts, and do not accept money from publishers (http://www.achievethecore.org/student-achievement-partners#work) while they accept funding from large foundations such as General Electric (http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=369100002)  and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Grants-2012/Pages/Student-Achievement-Partners-Inc-OPP1038182.aspx).  Educational recovery, stability and security as framed by the CCSS movement is also connected to the need to remain internationally competitive (http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/statement-national-governors-association-and-state-education-chiefs-common-core-). All of these frames have positioned the CCSS movement as a mechanism for change. Leading the way are Student Achievement Partners5 founders, Coleman, Pimental, and Zimba who appear to be playing a significant role in the CCSS implementation as detailed in the figure below.

Figure 2: Common Core State Standards Implementation


Based on the above, it appears that individuals who framed the current crisis in education also crafted the solution via the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), dissemination of instructional materials, and will subsequently be largely connected to assessing student (and teacher) achievement.6

Ultimately, we call for a reframing of the CCSS from redeemer to rainmaker. Rainmakers are defined by their ability to generate business by using political associations. The need to implement and assess the established CCSS situates those who created the standards as rainmakers for educational publishing companies and educational consulting non-profits they are affiliated with. The added altruistic connotations of the terms foundation and non-profit create an image of organizations aiding education similar to NGOs while they do not reveal the realities behind how the organizations are aligning themselves in ways to make substantial financial gains by making their services necessary for the CCSS. Therefore we raise the following questions, (1) Is education destined to be guided by the testing of national standards created by a small group who profits from the test they are paid to create? (2) What does that mean for historical notions of public education for all with local decision making rights? and (3) Are the CCSS the national beginnings of the corporatization of education?


1. The National Governors Association (NGA)the bipartisan organization of the nation's governorspromotes visionary state leadership, shares best practices and speaks with a collective voice on national policy. Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the collective voice of the nations governors and one of Washington, D.C.'s most respected public policy organizations. Its members are the governors of the 55 states, territories and commonwealths. NGA provides governors and their senior staff members with services that range from representing states on Capitol Hill and before the Administration on key federal issues to developing and implementing innovative solutions to public policy challenges through the NGA Center for Best Practices. NGA also provides management and technical assistance to both new and incumbent governors. Through NGA, governors identify priority issues and deal collectively with matters of public policy and governance at the state and national levels. (http://www.nga.org/cms/about)

2. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nationwide, nonpartisan, and nonprofit membership organization. It is the only organization of its kind to bring together the top education leaders from every state in the nation. Our nation's chief state school officers are committed to creating a public education system that prepares every child for lifelong learning, work, and citizenship. CCSSO's promise is to lead chiefs and their organizations in this effort by focusing on those state-driven leverage points they are uniquely positioned to address and increasing their capacity to produce students ready to succeed as productive members of society. Through decisive leadership and collective state action, we are committed to delivering on this promise. (http://www.ccsso.org/Who_We_Are/Our_Promise.html)

3. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers. These new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students progress toward this goal from 3rd grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support. The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year. PARCC received an $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment competition to support the development and design of the next-generation assessment system. (http://www.parcconline.org/about-parcc)

4. Achieve is proud to be the leading voice for the college- and career-ready agenda, and has helped transform the concept of college and career readiness for all students from a radical proposal into a national agenda. Achieve is a bipartisan, non-profit organization that helps states raise academic standards, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for postsecondary education, work, and citizenship.  (http://www.achieve.org/about-us)

5. Student Achievement Partners is a nonprofit organization that assembles educators and researchers to design actions based on evidence that will substantially improve student achievement. Founded by three of the contributing authors of the Common Core State Standards, Student Achievement Partners is devoted to accelerating student achievement by driving effective and innovative implementation of the Common Core. Student Achievement Partners played a leading role in development of the Core Standards, a process that drew on the input of teachers, business leaders, researchers, and policymakers. As contributing authors of the Core Standards, Student Achievement Partners integrated 10,000 public comments from teachers and other stakeholders as the Standards were being developed. Throughout the development of the Core Standards, Student Achievement Partners was responsible for ensuring that the Standards were based on the best available evidence of what students need to master in order to be ready for the demands of college and career. Now, Student Achievement Partners is devoted to the successful implementation of the Core Standards. Student Achievement Partners continues to work closely with teachers on all the tools it develops, and the organization will continue to support teachers by making all resources available at no cost (www.achievethecore.org).

6. For example, David Coleman of Student Achievement Partners, Inc. is acknowledged as a key architect of the ELA document, serving on both the Working Group and Feedback Group. In addition, he has participated in the production and distribution of curriculum and instructional practices via a video series supported by the CCSSO and the Hunt Institute, as well as several professional development-oriented speaking engagements, some of which also resulted in webinar videos, such as those produced by the New York State Department of Education (http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/resources/bringing-the-common-core-to-life.html). Further, David Coleman was recently named president of The College Board, an organization responsible for Advanced Placement curriculum and examinations and the SAT, among other programs.


Baker, B. & Welner, K. G. (2012). Evidence and rigor: Scrutinizing the rhetorical embrace of evidence-based decision making. Educational Researcher, 41 (3), 98-101.

The Common Core Standards http://www.corestandards.org/

Hirsch, E. D. (2011). Beyond comprehension: We have yet to adopt a Common Core Curriculum that builds knowledge grade by grade--But we need to. American Educator, 34(4), 30-36.

Lakoff , G. & Johnson, M. (1980).  Metaphors we live by. [Kindle Version].Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

NCLB http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility)

Tienken, C. H. (2010). Common Core State Standards: I Wonder?. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47(1), 14-17.

Tienken, C. H. (2011). Common Core State Standards: An example of data-less decision making. AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 7(4), 3-18.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 12, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16902, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 8:22:53 AM

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About the Author
  • Julie Pennington
    University of Nevada, Reno
    E-mail Author
    JULIE L. PENNINGTON is an associate professor of literacy studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her research focuses on autoethnographic methodology in teacher development and how teachers approach literacy instruction in culturally diverse settings.
  • Kathryn Obenchain
    Purdue University
    E-mail Author
    KATHRYN OBENCHAIN is currently an assistant professor of social studies education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Her research centers on democratic citizenship education in the United States and newly emerging democracies.
  • Aimee Papola
    Loyola University
    E-mail Author
    AIMEE L. PAPOLA received her Ph.D. in Literacy Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. She now teaches in the School of Education as an Assistant Professor at Loyola University.
  • Leia Kmitta
    University of Nevada, Reno
    E-mail Author

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