Unpacking the Common Core

In our first of a three week focus on implementing the Common Core State Standards, we were asked to look at a document released by The College Board for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. The document, entitled The Arts and the Common Core: A Comparison of the National Core Arts Standards and the Common Core State Standards, looked at language in the National Core Arts Standards and the Common Core State Standards for alignment between the two sets of standards.


For us to “Unpack the Common Core” could take weeks, months, if not years of research and serious study. Luckily for us, the College Board and the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards “Unpacked” the Common Core for us in a document that will be the basis for this assignment.

Review the document and write a synopsis of the Executive Summary from pages 4-13. If this was a semester long course, I would have you include the entire document in the synopsis, but with limited time, I will settle for a review of the Executive Summary. Please take some time to get familiar with this document, it could become very meaningful in the future.


The College Board, in cooperation with the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS), prepared a document showing how the new National Core Arts Standards align with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. There were two phases to this research. Phase I occurred in 2012, prior to the completion of the National Core Arts Standards. This phase focused on the language in the framework for the arts standards and how this aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Phase II occurred in 2014, after the National Core Arts Standards were published. Phase II goes much more in-depth, seeing how each Common Core State Anchor Standard aligns with each National Core Arts Anchor Standard. The goal of this cooperation is to show how the teaching music educators are currently doing already align with the Common Core State Standards, as well as what music educators can do to align their teaching with the CCSS.

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are divided into four sections: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language. The comparison document in Phase II compares these divisions to the four artistic process that divide the National Core Arts Standards: creating, performing/ presenting/producing, responding, and connecting. The CCSS for Mathematics are not divided into categories, but are still compared in the document to the eleven anchor standards in the National Core Arts Standards.

Below is a table summarizing the correlations the College Board found in between the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics and the National Core Arts Standards.


The document goes much more in depth in terms of the actual language used in each standard and how they correlate. The numbers in my table summary for math represent the number of skills/habits/abilities the document found to relate between the Common Core State Standards and the National Core Arts Standards. The document also specifies that the broad anchor standards for English Language Arts, Mathematics discuss the use of technology, whereas the Arts standards detail the use of technology in the grade-level standards as opposed to the anchor standards. Thus, there aren’t any correlations involving technology shown in the document, but such correlations exist at certain grade levels.

It is easy to see that there are several correlations: 238 of a possible 429, or 55.4%. The document highlights “high-level alignments” (highly similar, describe nearly identical practices) in yellow (95 of 175, or 54.2%). I chose to include the correlations in math standards that did not use the word “may” as a “high-level alignment.” For the other correlations, “it was determined that the practices described in each standard may relate to one another in certain instances, and that the cognitive habits that students are expected to engage in do share certain similarities.” These correlations are not highlighted.

The most important point the document makes comes in the conclusion on pages 12 and 13. The document is not intended to show how arts contribute to the development of students’ reading and math skills. Rather, the research was done to show “similarities in habits and processes described in standards across subject areas, and consider the ways that they may relate to one another in practice.” The document affirms that there are connections across all of the Common Core State Standards and National Core Arts Standards. It also points out that the majority of professional development currently available to arts educators focuses solely on the relationship between reading texts and responding to works of art.

The challenge is made to begin to move beyond this one relationship to the many correlations seen throughout the document. “The close examination of the Common Core standards required for this research presented a number of instances where arts teachers may be able to take the lead in promoting these types of cross-disciplinary connections... In summary, this research is a tool to inform practice, not an end in itself. As a field, the arts education community can complete the work by translating these findings to tools and resources for advocacy, curriculum planning, instruction, and assessment.” The College Board has come to the same conclusion many educators have: it is our responsibility to intelligently unpack these standards and plan our teaching.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.