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Next Generation Learning Standards vs. Common Core

November 19, 2020

Learning standards keep educators accountable, guiding expectations and making teaching practices intentional. Over the years, educational leaders and policymakers have developed standards that meet students’ diverse needs. Today, discussions about Next Generation Learning Standards vs. Common Core have gained momentum as states consider how to raise student achievement.

The History of Common Core

To raise student achievement levels across the nation, state leaders created the Common Core Standards in 2009 and 2010. The standards laid out what students needed to know at each grade level, from kindergarten through 12th grade. More specifically, they established benchmarks for what students should be able to do in math and reading each school year.

States began adopting the Common Core in 2011. Today, 41 states and the District of Columbia use the standards to establish agreed-upon benchmarks for what students should accomplish by graduation and ensure they are prepared for college or the workforce, regardless of what state they live in.

Two major concerns fueled the creation of the Common Core. Students in the US were not keeping up with the highest-performing students around the world in language arts and science. They also lagged behind in math. The more rigorous Common Core Standards aimed to help US students rank among the best.

By adopting the Common Core, educators addressed discrepancies and variations from state to state in academic expectations. For example, the Common Core requires middle and high school students to apply mathematical thinking to real-world problems, whereas previously not all states explicitly required this.

According to US Department of Education findings, states’ standards varied considerably, and all were set too low. For example, some districts within states followed their own district and state standards, which created confusion for teachers. Other states’ standards skipped entire grades. With Common Core, all states had to meet rigorous expectations that aligned with the highest international standards.

Challenges of Common Core

Implementation of the Common Core has faced many challenges. When the standards were first rolled out, education publishers had not yet developed materials aligned to the new standards. That left a burden on schools and teachers, who had to create new curriculum materials on their own.

Additionally, districts had little time and had to spend money training teachers and upgrading materials to meet implementation milestones. Teachers scrambled to prepare students for Common Core–based exams in math and reading. This often left little time to cover other subjects such as social studies and science and resulted in fewer lessons on any subjects not covered by the Common Core.

These challenges concerned educators and parents alike. Many parents chose to opt out of standardized tests, feeling they distorted the focus of education. Some viewed the Common Core as overreach by the government. Others felt frustrated by its unfamiliar methods for teaching certain concepts.

Despite billions of dollars invested in bringing up achievement, reading and math scores as a whole have stayed the same since 2000. In fact, scores on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam show that two-thirds of children do not read proficiently. Had the Common Core initiative failed?

With questions about the Common Core looming, some educational leaders and legislators are turning to Next Generation Learning Standards.With input from educators and parents, Next Generation Learning Standards offer revisions and additions to Common Core standards.

An Overview of Next Generation Learning Standards

In 2017, the New York State Department of Education introduced the Next Generation Learning Standards with a September 2020 launch date. Proponents of these new standards hope they can better support teachers in their instruction and strengthen student literacy. With input from 130 educators and parents, Next Generation Learning Standards offer revisions, deletions, and additions to previous standards.

The changes aim to improve clarity, reduce repetition, and ensure standards align appropriately with grade levels. Many of the changes address concerns about the Common Core. Like the Common Core, Next Generation Learning Standards outline the skills and knowledge that students should be able to demonstrate at each grade level.

Next Generation Learning Standards vs. Common Core

Next Generation Learning Standards reflect both minor and major changes to the Common Core. While some alterations involve shifts in wording, others redefine or remove standards altogether. Some of the most noteworthy changes respond to criticisms made against the Common Core.

Changes in Response to Common Core Criticism

In language arts, the Common Core placed considerable emphasis on informational texts. Many complained this drive to have students read nonfiction displaced the importance of literature and reading for pleasure. Next Generation Learning Standards strike a balance between informational and literary texts and promote reading for pleasure.

Another criticism of the Common Core involves unrealistic expectations of and a lack of flexibility toward younger students, especially those with special needs. Critics have argued younger learners need more wiggle room. In response, Next Generation Learning Standards incorporate additional play into instructional methods for younger grades. They also focus more on activities encouraging curiosity instead of rote learning.

Attainability deserves important consideration when framing standards. Some argued too many students cannot reach the expectations of the Common Core standards as they are written. To make standards more attainable, Next Generation Learning Standards open up ways for students to reach expectations. They give flexibility to teachers, allowing them to choose the supportive materials they offer, such as a dictionary for an English-language learner or multilingual learner working to meet literacy standards.

Another adjustment involves changes to math standards. Next Generation Learning Standards give middle school students more time to learn concepts about statistics. They give high school students more time to learn algebra. Additionally, language has shifted from “mastering” concepts to “exploring” them within grade levels.

Finally, the process of implementing Common Core offered educators little time to get trained or to fully incorporate the standards into their curriculums before states tested students on them. Next Generation Learning Standards give schools three years to prepare for the rollout.

Make an Impact on the Future of Student Learning

Designing standards that reflect the diverse needs of students poses many challenges. Educational leaders can consider the benefits and difficulties of Next Generation Learning Standards vs. Common Core to determine the best ways to tackle obstacles to student achievement.

Discover how American University’s Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership, and EdD in Education Policy and Leadership online programs prepare educators to evaluate and implement standards-based models, and advocate for improved policies that ensure students attain the skills they need to thrive.