Students in Kentucky taking a Common Core math test. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

Greater Expectations

The Challenge of the Common Core


The United States is in the midst of a huge education reform. The Common Core State Standards are a new set of expectations for what students should learn each year in school. The standards have been adopted by most states, though there’s plenty of controversy about them among activists and politicians. Most teachers, however, actually like the standards. This American RadioWorks documentary takes listeners into classrooms to explore how the standards are changing teaching and learning. Teachers say Common Core has the potential to help kids who are behind, as well as those who are ahead. But many teachers have big concerns about the Common Core tests. The new, tougher tests are meant to let the nation know how kids are really doing in school — but bad scores could get teachers and principals fired.

    In This Documentary

  • What is the Common Core?

    The Common Core is a big change for public schools, but most Americans know little about it. Learn what Common Core is, where it came from, and why it’s become so controversial.
  • Read the Common Core standards

    Pick up the newspaper or check out social media and you're going to find plenty of opinions about the Common Core. Decide for yourself what you think by reading the standards themselves.
  • Teachers embrace the Common Core

    Teachers in Reno, Nevada, were skeptical of the Common Core at first. But they have embraced the new standards as a way to bring better education to students who are struggling in school -- and to kids who are ahead.
  • Questioning the Common Core tests

    In the United States, education standards come with tests. Most students haven't been tested on the Common Core yet. But in one state where they have, the controversy is so intense that it's threatening to bring down the Common Core altogether.
  • Are you smarter than a Common Core student? Try a Common Core test

    New Common Core tests are supposed to measure students' ability to think critically, analyze information, and cite evidence as well as test their conceptual understanding of mathematics and their ability to apply math to the real world. See how you'd do on a Common Core test.
  • A teacher loses faith in the Common Core

    New York teacher Kevin Glynn was once a big fan of the Common Core, but he says the standardized testing that's come along with it is reducing students to test scores and narrowing what gets taught in schools.



Executive Editor: Stephen Smith
Correspondent and Producer: Emily Hanford
Editor: Catherine Winter
Digital Producer: Andy Kruse
Audio Mixing: Craig Thorson
Actor (“The New Colossus”): Clark Young
Assistant Producer: Suzanne Pekow
ARW staff: Laurie Stern and Samara Freemark
Interns: Dylan Peers McCoy and Minna Zhou
Project Manager: Ellen Guettler
Managing Director, National Content Development and Arts & Ideas Programming: Peter Clowney

Special thanks to Ben Shapiro and to many educators in Kentucky who provided valuable insight and expertise. Thanks also to Kohnstamm Communications and the Hatcher Group.

Support for “Greater Expectations” comes from Lumina Foundation, the Spencer Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. A note of disclosure: The Spencer and Lumina Foundations have funded research on aspects of the Common Core, while the Hewlett Foundation has supported research and development of the Common Core. The foundations did not influence ARW’s coverage of the issue.