Why Standards are Conceptually Weak,

and How to Fix Them

Standards for Students

The Fundamental Weakness in the Common Core Standards ​for Students

  • Thinking is the first language art. Without thinking, there can be no reading writing, listening, and speaking.
  • Yet, the Common Core has standards for reading, writing, listening, and speaking – but not thinking! This is why the common core program, and all the standards programs that have preceded it, is conceptually unsound.
  • More specifically, the Common Core Standards are conceptually unsound because they are not based on the natural science of thinking rooted in how the human mind uses its innate critical grammar of mind.
  • Most standards, common core and others, require that teachers and students engage in a variety of high-level thinking when reading, writing, and speaking/listening. The operative terms used include “analyze,” “synthesize,” “evaluate,” “reasoning,” “understand,” “comprehend,” and “assess.” These and similar terms appear over 800 times in the Common Core ELA and content literacy standards.
  • Yet, there are no achievement standards for that most basic of language and content comprehension arts: thinking. The standards do not define what it means to ask students to engage in “analysis” of text. There are no explicit thinking standards for explaining text, making inferences, analyzing the structure and ideas in text, and assessing whether reasoning is sound.
  • The novelist Eudora Welty (1956) said that to promote understanding of something, it must be “named, identified, concrete, exact, and exacting” (Maiorana, 2015, p. 99). The critical reasoning teacher educators, teachers, and their students are to develop and exhibit must have the same explicit attributes.

Standards for Teacher Educators and Teachers

The Fundamental Weakness in Standards for Teacher Educators and Teachers

          Teaching is a profession built on thinking directed at subject matter. Yet, standards for thinking when engaging new and revisited subject matter do not exist. The ATE, CAEP, edTPA, NCTQ, InTASC, NBPTS, and CCSSO do not have such thinking standards. The same is true of federal and state departments of education.

  • For example, the standards issued by the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) assume that teachers have been trained, for example, to “engage students [to] . . . understand, question, and analyze ideas from diverse perspectives” (p. 24); and to “engage all learners in developing higher order questioning skills and metacognitive processes” (p. 38); and that they “understand the cognitive processes associated with . . . critical thinking . . . and how [it] can be stimulated” (p. 38). [Reference: Council of Chief State School Officers (2013). InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and learning progressions for teachers 1.0: A resource for ongoing teacher development. Washington, DC]
    These assumptions are unjustified. Teacher educators and teachers are themselves subject to, and thereby practice, the long-standing approach of rote-inducing, literacy-defeating, serialism-based instruction. The evidence that they do not teach for critical thinking, reading, and writing is great and it is summarized here. The source for the summary are chapters 2, 3, and 6 in Fixing Instruction (2015). They make clear that teacher-educators and professional developers – and therefore the teacher-candidates and inservice teachers they train – are not prepared or developed to practice critical thinking, reading, and writing when engaging new and revisited subject matter with students.


  • There is a clear disconnect between desired expectations for instructional practice and desired student outcomes. Setting standards that ask students to learn to think, read, and write critically is unrealistic when teacher-educators, teachers, and professional developers have no standards for, and are themselves not prepared to engage in, critical instruction.
  • The standards movement needs a conception of thinking rooted in the natural science of the human’s innately critical grammar of mind. Thinking standards for the profession and students need to be developed based on the natural science of mind grammar. They need to be integrated into teacher practice and certification, and student learning and evaluation.
  • All organizations that conduct, accredit, assess, license, and certify teacher-preparation programs and teachers need to address the lack of thinking standards in order to help fix both instruction and learning. Otherwise, the standards movement will continue to have little impact on teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Standards will continue to be conceptually unsound.

Learn More


For more on standards for students, teacher educators, and teachers, including a cognitive framework for developing standards for thinking, see: