The education system in the United States has always been arranged in a way where each state has different standards for students to achieve. However, there has long been a move toward a more organized and fixed set of standards and federal standards for all states. President George H.W. Bush called for national education standards in his America 2000 plan, but the states eventually rebuffed the standards and accused the federal government of meddling in what they considered state responsibility.
President Bill Clinton established a federal education program called Goals 2000, which was approved by Congress in 1994. It established a National Education Standards and Improvement Council, whose role was to certify standards developed by educational associations. The Department of Education funded such programs in an effort to increase the educational level of American children.
The goal of the program was for standardized tests to be established in all states. Students had to pass these tests in order to graduate and advance from the 4th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Under the standards, students needed to reach a certain level of math, science, writing and a mastery of language. In addition, students were also required to achieve a certain level of analytical decision making, which was assessed by their choice of certain answers as better than others.
Later under President George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind law was introduced, which called for testing and progress toward proficiency, but the specific classroom standards and test criteria had to be determined by the states. According to some critics, as a result of this some states artificially lowered their standards so that their students could appear higher-performing on standardized tests.
President Barack Obama included national education standards as one of five pillars for his education reform. In March 2010, new national standards for K-12 education (which encompasses primary and secondary education) were proposed by state governors and education officials. The effort differed from previous ones in that that the states took the lead, with forty-eight states, excluding Alaska and Texas, agreeing to participate in the creation of the core standards. The voluntary guidelines, called Common Core State Standards, call on states to teach specific topics in each grade level and seek to replace the guidelines which vary from state to state.
The guidelines were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association in collaboration with various stakeholders such as content experts, states, teachers, school administrators and parents. After a period when educators, students and members of the public were able to give feedback on the draft, the set of state-led education standards was released in June 2010. After that the states started adopting and implementing the standards following their own procedures and processes for adoption.
The core standards lay out detailed, high-achieving goals for language, math and history at every grade level. For example, students in the seventh grade need to be able to "use ideas about distance and angles, how they behave under dilations, translations, rotations and reflections." In reading, they are expected to be able to "analyze how particular lines of dialogue or specific incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character or provoke a discussion." Under the standards, a reading list including many classics has been included but, according to its authors, it is meant as a guideline for appropriate complexity of texts for different grades and not as a required list.
The standards provide a definition of the knowledge and skills students need to have within their K-12 education in order to be fully prepared for college and careers when they graduate high school. The standards are aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills. They also build upon strengths and lessons of existing state standards, while also being evidence and research-based. The standards are also informed by other top performing countries and aim at preparing students for success in the global economy and society.
According to the CCSSO, the language used in the standards is clearer and the jargon, which had confused parents and students in the past, was avoided. However, it was stressed that the standards were not intended as a specific teaching method, because there were different teaching styles in different classrooms and every teacher needed to understand how to get the students to meet the standards.