As a guinea pig in a nationwide experiment, Chicago's Philip D. Armour Elementary School is seeing drastic improvements in student performance.

Even the most ardent critics of the nationwide Common Core Standards initiative can't dispute the school's strong student improvement: Armour's state standardized test scores have moved up 16 points, in a school where 98 percent of students are low-income and come from a high-crime neighborhood, PBS NewsHour reports.

Illinois is one of 46 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of academic benchmarks that raises the bar for teaching and learning across the country. The goal of the states-led initiative is to establish a uniform set of expectations for what students must learn, eliminating educational inequities, and to ensure college and career-readiness.

The standards focus on teaching fewer subjects in greater depth, replacing a melange of educational expectations that vary wildly across districts and states.

Neither the city nor the teachers union dispute the fact that curricular reforms and more rigorous standards are necessary to reverse an American trend of dismal student performance and lagging global competitiveness. But the pilot program at Armour Elementary first saw resistance from teachers exasperated by the need to develop their own curriculum to meet Common Core standards.

Despite Armour's success, teachers across Chicago remain concerned. Student scores are expected to plummet when Illinois unveils new high-stakes exams in 2014. And those scores, according to the deal reached following a bitter seven-day labor strike, will account for 30 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis worries that the shift could be a "death sentence" for teachers and schools.

But for now, teachers at Armour are doing what they do best: helping their students learn.

Watch the full PBS NewsHour segment above to hear more about the Common Core, how Armour teachers have adapted and how the students are doing with the new standards.

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  • Texas

    According to the “Educating Our Children” section of <a href="">Texas Republican Party 2012 Platform</a>, “corporal punishment is effective.” Furthermore, the document recommends teachers be given "more authority" to <a href="">deal with disciplinary problems</a>.

  • Texas

    The proposal’s most radical position, however, <a href="">opposes the teaching of "higher order thinking skills"</a> -- a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking -- arguing that it <a href="">might challenge "student's fixed beliefs"</a> and undermine "parental authority."

  • Louisiana

    One school participating in Louisiana's voucher program notes that its students "will be <a href="">expected to defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible</a> versus traditional scientific theory."

  • Louisiana

    According to <em>Mother Jones</em>, <a href="">many of the Christian schools</a> rely on <a href="">A Beka Book</a> curriculum or <a href="">Bob Jones University Press</a> textbooks to teach their students “the <a href="">accumulated wisdom of the past from a biblical worldview</a>.” Here are some <a href="">examples</a>:

  • Louisiana

    "Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. <a href="">Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time</a> and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years." — <em>Life Science</em>, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

  • Louisiana

    Gay people "have no more claims to <a href="">special rights than child molesters or rapists</a>." — <em>Teacher's Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999</em>, Bob Jones University Press, 1998

  • Tennessee

    In April, Tennessee lawmakers added language to the state’s abstinence-only sex education curriculum that <a href="">warns against “gateway sexual activity.”</a> Although Senate Bill 3310 does not specify what constitutes "gateway sexual activity,” many have interpreted the phrase to dissuade anything that has potential to lead to sex -- including kissing, hand-holding and cuddling. The bill is a response to recent controversies over sex-ed lessons in some Tennessee school districts that mentioned alternatives to sexual intercourse. "'Abstinence' means from all of these activities, and we want to promote that," said Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson, the bill's sponsor. "What we do <a href="">want to communicate to the kids is that the best choice is abstinence</a>."

  • Utah

    In March, the Utah state Senate passed a bill that would <a href="">permit schools to eliminate sex education</a>, prohibit instruction on how to use contraception and bar discussion of homosexuality in class. Many senators spoke out in support of the bill, claiming sex education is meant for the home, not school. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert eventually <a href="">vetoed the controversial bill</a>. Spurred on by the impassioned Utah sex education debate, Republican state Sen. Stuart Reid is now sponsoring a bill that would <a href="">require the state school board to develop a sex education program for parents</a>, so that they might feel better equipped to teach their children about sex in the privacy of their own homes.

  • Mississippi

    A 2011 Mississippi law <a href="">required some sort of sex education in all school systems beginning this academic year</a>. Local districts had the option of deciding whether to adopt an abstinence-only or an abstinence-plus policy for sex education. Abstinence-plus teaches safe-sex practices, contraception and causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases in addition to abstinence. More than <a href="">80 of the state's 151 districts opted for abstinence-only curriculums</a>, while three chose to adopt split policies, teaching abstinence-only to younger students and abstinence-plus to older grades. Students must receive parental permission to take the courses and boys and girls take the classes separately.

  • Arizona

    In April, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation requiring the state Board of Education to design a high school elective course for public and charter school students titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would include <a href="">lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture</a>, among other aspects of society.

  • Virginia

    A measure passed in recent years required Virginia’s Board of Education to design course materials in line with the <a href="">National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program guidelines</a> to teach elementary students about gun safety. The curriculum includes <a href="">lessons ranging from distinguishing those who use guns professionally to recognizing and catching firearms on school property</a>. Individual districts had the option of deciding whether to adopt the curriculum.

  • California

    In July 2011, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making <a href="">California the first state to require public schools to teach lessons on historical and current contributions of gays and lesbians</a>. According to <em>USA Today</em>, the new law mandates the California Board of Education and local school districts <a href="">adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that include the contributions of sexual minorities as soon as the 2013-14 school year</a>. The legislation does not specify a grade level for instruction to begin, and leaves implementation up to local school boards.

  • New York

    Around the same time that California’s landmark bill was signed, <a href="">summer school teachers in New York City began teaching about same-sex marriage</a> in civics classes. According to the <em>New York Post</em>, city education officials are looking to follow in California's footsteps and formally include it into city schools' curriculum, though a <a href="">timeline is yet to be determined</a>.

  • Indiana

    In July 2011, Indiana school officials announced that <a href="">students would no longer be required to learn cursive writing</a>, effective Fall 2011.

  • Hawaii / North Carolina

    Following Indiana, Hawaii <a href="">dropped cursive writing from its mandatory school curriculum</a>. Going into the 2011-12 school year, the state adopted the national Common Core State Standards, a set of education standards that omits cursive but includes keyboard proficiency. Now, principals decide whether their schools teach cursive. Pitt County Schools in North Carolina recently followed suit, no longer requiring its students to learn cursive writing. According to Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Olmstead, a <a href="">team of educators is working to figure out where to fit cursive writing into the curriculum so that students will have a recognizable signature</a>. She says the district hopes to have a plan in place next year.