I have written this post as a request from a friend and colleague who lives and works in Mexico, but is currently studying in Boston. The context – personal thoughts on common standards in relation to political, social, economic and cultural influences.

Best wishes and let’s discuss this further!


The Common Core Standards set out ambitious approaches to the consistent and challenging development of knowledge; supported by the skills that our young people require in today’s global society.

The 21st century has proven to be challenging for us all, with threats to our way of living; the economy, the environment and to our national security. These issues are not unique to any one nation and as such the can only be tackled by working collaboratively. The need for young inspiring, enquiring minds has never been greater. Education is an essential component in our war against poverty and youth unemployment.

If we wish to reduce the chances of raising a lost generation, our education systems must undergo systemic, transformational change which provides our children and young people with the opportunities to grow into responsible, global citizens. By providing them with a platform to become successful learners, confident individuals and effective contributors, we can safeguard the future of our planet and the future of its population.

Within any set of common standards, there needs to be focus on skills in literacy and numeracy, for these are themes which sit centrally within any subject discipline. The learner, at the centre of their journey must always be placed first as an individual. There is a real danger that educators see common standards as the benchmark. This could set a precedent which produces cohorts whom have jumped through the hoops necessary to achieve the grade. For this reason, the curriculum must be flexible enough to allow children and young people to grow above and beyond the set standards. Ergo, what we should really be discussing is the minimum standards of education which we see as appropriate for the stage and level of the learner within today’s contemporary world.

Competition within the job market is no longer restricted to the local districts in which we are schooled. The international landscape has changed dramatically over the last twenty years and through technology, we now have a social agenda which can support distance and blended learning opportunities and platforms for collaboration.

One such example could be found within the work of the United Nations. One such agency under this umbrella is the UNESCO International Bureau of Education. It’s Community of Practice for Curriculum Development is a network of professionals – both practitioners and academics, who work together to eradicate poverty through robust and timely policies and curricula interventions. This is encapsulated within Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, the network contributions are made from a wide range of nationalities. Our education systems must be able to respond to this growing need (and desire) to build upon the good work already started.

Our children and young people are now more socially aware than ever before. Advents such as Twitter and Facebook have only exasperated this theory and there are many published works which can be drawn upon to conclude such. We must not (and we have a responsibility to make this our ambition) allow the quality of education, learning and the experiences and life outcomes of future generations to be a direct result of where the learning takes place. The priority must be afforded to individual nations. For example, within the UK, this ultimately requires alignment of standards across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Within the US, this means aligning across States. Eventually, as we truly become a global nation with one agenda, it should not matter whether learning takes place in the US, the UK, France, Italy or Egypt. The basic standards should be the same.

Of course, it would be naive to assume that this is an easy task or that it will be achieved this Century, or perhaps even next. Cultural differences, resource empowerment and traditional approaches all impact on the ability to deliver common standards. For example, in Egypt, there is little third sector opportunity and this is becoming an increasingly popular post-school destination. Those countries seeking to reduce the number of young people not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) rely very much on this sector to support learning and provide the experiences required.

If you have never done this, Google search ‘Classrooms around the World’ and have a look at the images. The learning environments themselves are very different from one country to the next. What the Common Core Standards must do, is to align themselves under the auspices of what I call responsible confidence. That is, they must build within our children and young people the self-esteem, the self-confidence and self-determination needed to take responsibility for their own learning, health and well-being. Indeed, classrooms and resources differ from one school to the next and they may only be a few miles down the road from each other.

The Standards are not that dissimilar from Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes, which are taught within the Broad General Education in Scotland. Other countries will have their own context. The next steps, interestingly, would be to review all sets and look for similarities in content and design. What is important, that through implementation the front line practitioners who will deliver such standards must have a fundamental understanding of how to apply them, when it is appropriate to move a child from one level to the next and importantly, be confident in teaching them. Governments must also allow their professionals to take managed risks and remove some of the accountability that often restricts freedom to be innovative.

There are wider issues around quality assurance and how this is applied to assessment and this sits more in what I term the ‘back end’ of the education system. The accountability which falls to inspectorates, examination bodies and so forth. Not always done particularly well, that is the articulation between the front end and the back end. A classic example of the right hand does not always know what the left is doing.

I could easily spend all day typing away on this theme and eventually, it is likely that I’ll start ranting and raving. For that reason, I am going to stop. However, my final thought is thus; whichever country you live in and regardless of how far down the line you are in designing curricula or implementing standards, I strongly suspect that what you end up with at the end of the (cyclic) process will be very different from what was intended or expected.

I talk about technological determinism and how conceptualisation does not always meet realisation. The most classic example being the origin of the mobile phone, originally intended as a portable means of talking to people. I’ll let your imagination do the rest… but don’t think about it too hard or you’ll sink into oblivion!


Posted by Lee Dunn

Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction

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