When No Child Left Behind became law in 2001, it required states to adopt a common set of standards in which to teach children, and an assessment to measure student progress against those standards. Iowa was the only state in the country that did not adopt a statewide set of standards. In the spirit of local control they left this to local school districts. As districts set out about this task, they quickly discovered that the work they were doing was being duplicated in the district adjacent to them or the next county over. The trouble was, one district may place a particular skill or concept in one grade level while another district may place it in another. This may seem like a minor problem, but if students move from one district to another it can become problematic. What may be an expectation in 4th grade in one school district may not be an expectation until the 5th grade in a district down the road. Or, may not be an expectation at all. This can ultimately lead to gaps in knowledge that are never addressed. In addition, the assessment that Iowa chose to measure student progress wasn't aligned very well with what students are actually learning in schools (The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which are now called the Iowa Assessments). How could it be, with each individual school district developing its own set of standards?
The Common Core standards are a set of standards that identify what a student is expected to know and be able to do by the time they complete a grade level at a particular school. They are based on what young people need in order to be successful in college and in careers.
In Iowa, we pride ourselves on local control and the adoption of the Core may be viewed as a move toward a centralized educational system controlled by the Federal Government. First, we should clear up some confusion. The Common Core Standards are not an initiative of the Federal Government. While 45 states (including Iowa) have adopted the Core it is an initiative sponsored by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief States Schools Officers.
Second I wouldn't label the Common Core as a deterioration in local control, but rather a collaboration among education stakeholders around the country. It make a lot of sense to create a common framework of standards. We work hard to ensure that our students in 4th grade (for example) are exposed to a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Shouldn't we ensure that guaranteed and viable curriculum exists between school districts?
Now I am not suggesting that on day 15 all schools in the country should be teaching 4th grade students how to multiply fractions, but I do think it makes sense that all 4th graders should be able to meet the following standard sometime during the fourth grade:
'Explain why a fraction a/b is equivalent to a fraction (n x a)/(n x b) by using visual fraction models, with attention to how the number and size of the parts differ even though the two fractions themselves are the same size. Use this principal to recognize and generate equivalent fractions'.
How this standard is met during the 4th grade is up to the teacher and the district in which the student resides. The strategy, curriculum material, and methodology are not what make up the Common Core.