How I Deconstructed The Common Core

common core deconstructedWhen the Common Core draft was first released in 2009, I was intrigued by the idea of internationally benchmarked standards and proceeded to study them deeply. I wanted to understand how they were constructed, and better still, I wanted to prepare myself to support teachers’ in knowing how to teach them. I read them intensely, made connections to Best Practices in education and began to take them apart.

I realized that the way we think about how to look at standards would have to change. (The language we currently hear is “instructional shifts.”) I also realized that the only way for teachers to genuinely comprehend the standards at their root, was for teachers themselves to dissect the standards. I started a journey toward stripping the standards to get to their core.

On this journey, I began by enlisting texts by Marzano, Kaplan, Renzulli and others. I reached out to teachers, coaches, school leaders, and state leaders. I led the production of a Common Core based curriculum in 2010 and watched it unfold in 2011. I observed teachers’ difficulties and leaders’ struggles with wrestling with a product created by someone else and became reaffirmed that teachers had to do the work.

I reflected on the entire experience for months and emerged with the decision to help teachers deconstruct the standards–break them down into their constituent parts so that teachers could build them back up in the minds of their students. This resulted in what I call The Core Deconstructed. It’s a process for individual teachers to dissect the standards for themselves so they know them intimately. It’s a process that allows for creativity in an era of accountability.

Example, Deconstructed

Here’s an example of a partially deconstructed standard.

RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas or events.

• Students can explain the differences between individuals, events and ideas

• Students can attribute the organizational structure of text to the differences between individuals, events and ideas

• Students can produce a generalization about the effect of making connections and distinctions between individuals, events and ideas

• Students know how to integrate the elements of a well-structured text-based analysis

• Students know how to produce the elements of a well-structured text-based analysis

I Want Your Feedback

So this is about teachers getting it, not just me. Because of that, I want to share an excerpt of my project for feedback. Partner with me to hear the voices of educators–the frontline folks who have to do the hard work of effective delivery. Take a look at the excerpt and leave a comment here, on Twitter or on Facebook. Then share with other educators through your favorite medium (email, Twitter, FB, etc.) so I can hear their voices as well.

This work is not about one person or a group of people creating for teachers. It’s about teachers creating for themselves, so they can gain the deep insights and understanding they want in order to translate the standards into the type of learning that their students need.


  1. Daniel Jhin Yoo

    December 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Breaking down the Common Core standards into their essential components is so key. We are trying to help special educators and specialists do this for developing Common Core aligned IEP goals:

    Understanding the essence of the standard is critical for allowing multiple means to access the standard for students with different abilities. Have you looked at UDL’s approach to standards?

  2. Liz Estrada

    December 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I appreciate your post, and I agree with your conclusion that the work of deconstructing the standards has to be done by the people who will be teaching the standards. I have been working on this very thing in my school district in Texas for the last 3 years. My job is to facilitate design sessions with each of the grade level teams in my elementary school. We always start with dissecting the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which entails taking the student expectation and identifying the verb, the noun(s) that the verb is to act upon, and the context in which this action is to be framed. After several weeks into our year (we meet weekly for these sessions) with the teachers, I’d start to hear things, even from veteran teachers, such as, “Well, I’ve been teaching this wrong all these years…” Although delighted by the epiphany, it was rather disconcerting to think how many kids had already been “taught wrong”. In any case, progress doing this exercise for every TEKS we design for has helped teachers understand what exactly they should be teaching and how to design the right kinds of activities and assessments. After two years, I started hearing teachers themselves say as they design activities or assessments, “Wait. Does that question address the standard correctly?” I feel like the pebble has been snatched from my hand.

  3. Eric Nentrup

    December 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm


    As a staff, we worked through deconstructing the ELA 11/12 standards into discreet learning targets like you did. We went one further step and put a letter code against each learning target so that we can more accurately track mastery. The goal is to have records for our students as they travel through high school from one ELA course to the next, striving to spend more time on skills that students don’t know while maintaining a sharp and increasing ability at ones for which they already have achieved mastery.

    So, for what it’s worth, here’s a Google Spreadsheet with our work that you can freely use. Hit me on Twitter (@ericnentrup) if you have any feedback!

  4. Kris Nielsen

    December 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I was a leader of this important work at my previous school. I deconstructed, unpacked, and aligned math CCSS to new curricula. After a year and a half of research and keeping up with other educational trends, I came to this conclusion:

  5. Sheron

    December 28, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Hello Eric,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m following you now!


  6. Sheron

    December 28, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Hi All-

    One thing I can say the 2.5 years have taught me for sure is that the teachers have to be the ones to “chew” the standards up. Only then are the materials we supply them with as powerful as we desire for them to be. I’m looking into everything you all have share. Thank you so much!

    Dr. B.