Information Age Education
   Issue Number 108
February, 2013   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at

Common Core State Standards
Part 9: Introduction to National Standards

David Moursund
Emeritus Professor
University of Oregon

This is the ninth IAE Newsletter in a 10-newsletter series that addresses various issues related to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These 10 newsletters will become a short book that will be published by IAE and made available free on the Web. This ninth newsletter will be the first chapter in the new book. All back issues of the IAE Newsletter are available free at

CCSS is a state initiative. Quoting from the Common Core States Standards Initiative (CCSS, 2010):

The nation’s governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the development of the Common Core State Standards and continue to lead the initiative. Teachers, parents, school administrators and experts from across the country together with state leaders provided input into the development of the standards.

States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards. Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards, beginning in 2010. The federal government was NOT involved in the development of the standards. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents lead the implementation of the Common Core.

Educational Standards-based Education the United States

The United States does not have a centralized education system. In the U.S., each state is responsible for its own educational system and sets its own standards. However, the past two decades have witnessed a movement toward the development and implementation of national standards. Quoting from Standards, Assessments, and Accountability, a 2009 National Academy of Education Policy White Paper:

Standards-based education reform [in the United States] has a more than 20-year history. A standards-based vision was enacted in federal law under the Clinton administration with the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and carried forward under the Bush administration with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. In a recent survey of policy makers, standards were acknowledged as the central framework guiding state education policy.

Yet, despite this apparent unanimity about the intuitively appealing idea of standards, there is great confusion about its operational meaning: exactly what should the standards be, how should they be set and by whom, and how should they be applied to ensure rigorous and high quality education for American students are the central questions that challenge policy makers and educators. For example, content standards (subject-matter descriptions of what students should know and be able to do) are often confused with performance standards (which are more like passing scores on a test), and very different theories of action are used to explain how standards-based reforms are expected to work. Ambitious rhetoric has called for systemic reform and profound changes in curriculum and assessments to enable higher levels of learning. In reality, however, implementation of standards has frequently resulted in a much more familiar policy of test-based accountability, whereby test items often become crude proxies for the standards. (See

Lifelong Learners

“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” (Thomas H. Huxley; English writer; 1825–1895.)

We are all lifelong learners. Our brain/mind is designed to receive information from our external and internal sensors, process the information, make use of or ignore it, and learn through this ongoing sequence of activities.

Thomas Huxley’s statement suggests that a good education is quite broad, but includes depth in at least one area. One way to think about this is in terms of the broad general education that one needs to be a responsible and productive adult, and the depth of knowledge and skills one needs for a successful career.

I believe that this was good advice when Huxley wrote it, and it is still good advice. However, the totality of human knowledge has grown immensely over the past 150 years, and it is no longer possible to know something about everything or everything about something. (Moursund, 2011). Education is a complex and challenging discipline!

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” (African proverb.)

Long before the development of reading and writing, children learned from their parents, siblings, and their “whole village.” Children learned how to survive and prosper in their environment, to hunt and gather, make fire, shelter, and garments, prepare and preserve food, make and use tools, and so on. This learning came from a combination of imitation, explicit instruction, and trial and error. All of this occurred long before the development of reading and writing.

A little over ten thousand years ago, agriculture was developed. This led to increasing size of population centers, more specializations of work, and the need for record keeping for use in business and government transactions.

Eventually, about five thousand years ago, reading and writing were developed. It takes an extended amount of formal instruction to learn reading and writing. Individual tutoring and early schools provided such formal education to a small percentage of the population. Most of the population remained illiterate.

The following quote gives us some insight into an early problem in formal education:

“When you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that one man may acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other, after much study and application no sooner learns then he forgets …” (Plato; Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world; 428/427 BC– 348/347 BC.)

Our current educational system still faces this challenge. As we work to set goals and standards in education, we need to hold firmly in mind the variability of students!

Meritocratic Civil Service

As populations increased and fiefdoms and countries developed, leaders needed able and educated assistants. These might be chosen from one’s relatives, friends, and those swearing allegiance. Alternatively, there might be a merit system—civil servants chosen on the basis of their potentials as learners and workers.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

“From the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 220) until the implementation of the imperial examination system, most appointments in the imperial bureaucracy were based on recommendations from prominent aristocrats and local officials whilst recommended individuals were predominantly of aristocratic rank. Emperor Wu of Han started an early form of the imperial examinations, transitioning from inheritance and patronage to merit, in which local officials would select candidates to take part in an examination of the Confucian classics.

The Chinese civil-service system gave the Chinese empire stability for more than 2,000 years and provided one of the major outlets for social mobility in Chinese society.

The modern examination system for selecting civil service staff also indirectly evolved from the imperial one. This system was admired and then borrowed by European countries from the 16th century onward, and is now the model for most countries around the world. The first European power to successfully implement the meritocratic civil service was the British Empire, in their administration of India: "company managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations in order to prevent corruption and favoritism." See


Over the centuries, leaders began to see the value of having a large number of citizens who had basic literacy. After the American Revolution (1776-1783) Thomas Jefferson noted the need for an educated and informed citizenry to help ensure freedom. In Virginia, he tried to persuade the Virginia Legislature to provide for free education up through the third grade. Although he was not successful in this endeavor, the attempt gives an indication of the level of education visionaries thought to be desirable for the general population at that time. In three years of schooling, students could achieve basic literacy and numeracy.

Literacy is a rather broad-reaching term. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Literacy is the ability to read for knowledge and interest, write coherently, and think critically about the written word. Visual literacy includes in addition the ability to understand all forms of communication, be it body language, pictures, maps, or video. Evolving definitions of literacy often include all the symbol systems relevant to a particular community. Literacy encompasses a complex set of abilities to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture for personal and community development. In a technological society, the concept of literacy is expanding to include the media and electronic text, in addition to alphabetic and number systems. These abilities vary in different social and cultural contexts according to need and demand. (See

This type of broad definition allows us to think about a student developing both general literacy and literacy within certain disciplines of study. For example, mathematics is a type of language. A person might have general skills in reading and writing, but be essentially illiterate in terms of the thinking, representing problems, and solving problems using the language of mathematics (Moursund, 2008a).

Developers of a modern education system face some particularly difficult literacy challenges. For example:
  1. Who should learn general reading and writing, and at what level of achievement? Nowadays there is considerable agreement that all children should earn to read. In the United States, the average adult reads at approximately the eighth grade level. That is, the average adult reads about as well as average students in our eighth grade.  (See

  2. In the United States, a major goal in reading education is for students to be moderately skillful at reading to learn by the end of the third grade, and that reading to learn across all curriculum areas be a standard part of the instructional process by the seventh grade. (See

  3. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has spawned a new type of communication literacy including social networking, texting, email, audio, and routine exchange of digital pictures and video. This topic cuts across all curriculum areas and grade levels.

  4. Computer-based information storage and retrieval systems have brought a world-class library to our fingertips. This library also includes computerized procedures that solve or help to solve a wide range of problems. This computational thinking and computer-assisted problem solving help to define a new type of communication literacy (Moursund, 2008b).

  5. Interactive computer games and other digital forms of entertainment have overtaken television as a form of entertainment. Many students find these types of entertainment far more gripping (indeed, sometimes addictive) than traditional schooling (Moursund, 2013).

College and Career Readiness

College and career readiness is one of the current “buzz phrases” used in discussing goals for  precollege education in the United States. See

The buzz phrase uses the word career in place of work or job. In my mind there is a considerable difference between having a career and having a job. There are many minimal wage jobs that are easy entry, and require modest knowledge, skills, and on-the-job training or education. Many of these are “dead end” jobs. Today, there are fewer career-type jobs in which a person steadily gains in knowledge and skills and stays in the same type of job placement for a lifelong career.

There has been considerable research on how many hours of serious study and practice it takes a person to achieve a relatively high level of expertise in a specific career or avocation area. The most often quoted number is 10,000 hours.  See and

Of course, there are many career-types of occupations in which much of the needed learning can occur on the job and/or through a combination of a job-oriented education/training program of modest length and on-the-job experiences. I like to think of this as a type of schooling/apprenticeship type of preparation.

Multiple Career-type Jobs

You have probably heard statements predicting that the average adult will change careers six or seven times during his or her work career. See When coupled with the many hours of study, training, education, and experience it takes to achieve a high level of expertise in a career area, this suggests that people who have a high level of expertise in a sequence of careers carry over considerable knowledge and skills from one career area to the next. Quoting Thorton May from her article “Why the Word 'Career' Has become Obsolete,” we now “live in an age when the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.… Your career success is a function of how successfully you keep yourself upgraded.” (May, 2012.)

May’s article contains some history that you may find interesting:

In the Middle Ages, one never heard the word career. Clerics in their monasteries (the first estate), kings in their courts (the second estate), and commoners in their mud huts (the third estate) didn't discuss career options.

In much of early modern Europe, for most of recorded time, what one did occupationally (i.e., one's career) was essentially determined by birth. There was very little choice involved.

The modern concept of a career originated in the mid to late 19th century. The advent of the word career precisely coincides with the expansion of occupational choices. With improved agricultural methods, more food could be produced by fewer people, thereby allowing some subset of the people laboring in the fields to pursue other forms of employment. Technological innovations (like the steam engine) enabled new modes of production (e.g., factories) that expanded the work choices available.

Nowadays, both formal education (including college) and jobs/careers are experiencing a relatively rapid pace of change. We want our precollege educational system to prepare students for this changing education and job/career world. We need to examine reform movements such as CCSS in light of how they help prepare students for this rapid pace of change.

The Next Newsletter in This Series

The next article in this IAE Newsletter series will provide brief summaries of assessment and a number of other topics not covered in previous articles. It will be the final article in the CCSS series.


CCSS (2010). Common Core State Standards initiative. Retrieved 2/21/2013 from

May, T. (2012). Why the word ‘career’ has become obsolete. Computerworld. Retrieved 2/22/2013 from

Moursund, D. (2008a). Communicating in the language of mathematics. Retrieved 2/21/2013 from

Moursund, D. (2008b) Computational thinking. Retrieved 2/21/2013 from

Moursund, D. (2011). Information overload and underload. Retrieved 2/21/2013 from

Moursund, D. (2013). What I learned from learning to learn a new computer game. Retrieved 2/21/2013 from

David Moursund

David Moursund earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught in the Mathematics Department and Computing Center at Michigan State University for four years before joining the faculty at the University of Oregon. See his vita at see

A few highlights of his professional career include founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was a major professor or co-major professor of 82 doctoral students. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops.

In 2007, he founded Information Age Education (IAE), a non-profit company dedicated to improving teaching and learning by people of all ages throughout the world. See

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address, a Website containing free books and articles at, a Blog at, and the free newsletter you are now reading.