The Common Core State Standards for K-12 education, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are touted by some education-watchers as a states-led effort to improve college and career readiness of high school graduates and raise students' slipping scores on international tests.

Q. What is the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

A. A set of voluntary standards meant to define the knowledge and skills in math and English language arts that high school graduates need for college readiness and workplace success. The initiative was developed in response to reports that found employers and colleges are dissatisfied with exit requirements for high school graduates in most states, and global test results that showed U.S. students’ academic performance is slipping in international rankings.

Q. Who developed the standards?

A. The standards were written by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The process involved teachers, education experts, stakeholders and a public review. Major financial support came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other corporate leaders.

Q. What is the federal government’s involvement?

A. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort, and its adoption is not mandatory. However, President Barack Obama created financial incentives for states to adopt the standards as part of his Race to the Top program.

Q. Does the Common Core create a national curriculum?

A. The standards are a set of expectations for what knowledge students need to succeed in careers and college. Curriculum decisions about how to meet the standards are to be made by local teachers, principals and superintendents.

Q. How many states have adopted the standards?

A. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the standards. Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia have not adopted them.

Q. Are the Common Core math standards more or less rigorous than states’ existing standards?

A. The standards are designed to prepare students for taking Algebra in eighth grade, as some states now require, but they leave this up to local decision-makers. They also provide grade eight standards for algebra that allow students to transition to Algebra I later. The standards were designed with the intent to make math instruction more coherent, and address the common complaint that U.S. math curricula are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Q. Does the Common Core prevent teaching of cursive writing?

A. Cursive writing is not addressed in the standards. The decision about whether to include it in school curricula is left up to states and districts.

Q. Do the English/language arts standards reduce emphasis on fiction and literature?

A. English teachers will still teach literature and literary nonfiction. However, the standards also include reading of complex texts outside of literature as part of an effort to prepare students for college and workplace reading. This could reduce the amount of time students spend exploring literature.

Q. Have the Common Core State Standards been field-tested?

A. The standards are research- and evidence-based, using data that identifies college- and career-ready performance and compares standards from high-performing states and nations. The standards have not been broadly field-tested. Some states have already implemented them, and are being watched closely.

Sources: Common Core State Standards Initiative, Center for Public Education, The New York Times