"Standards are not curriculum"

The revised Common Core standards are ready for review. The NGA clarifies in its release that “standards are not curriculum.” Robert Pondiscio comments that “it’s good to see a measure of clarity” about the distinction between the two.

These standards do look clearer than the previous version, although, as before, the math is more specific than the English. Chester E. Finn, Jr., at Flypaper comments:

We’re still reviewing the latest version but at first glance it appears that the math standards, while not perfect, have a lot going for them. The “English” standards are harder to appraise. They’re not actually English standards, but, rather, standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening. The drafters acknowledge that they would need to be accompanied by solid curriculum content, and they’ve provided a handful of examples—good ones, mostly—of such content. But they’ve also left most of the heavy lifting to states, districts, schools and educators. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it also means that the “common core” standards, at least in this version, are more a vessel waiting to be filled with curriculum than an actual framework for what teachers should teach and students should learn.

Yet even with the relative vagueness of the English standards, they have more substance than some of the state ELA standards I have seen. Here’s what the standards say about the quality of reading material:

The literary and informational texts chosen or study should be rich in content and in a variety of disciplines. All students should have access to and grapple with works of exceptional craft and thought both for the insights those works offer and as models for students’ own thinking and writing. These texts should include classic works that have broad resonance and are alluded to and quoted often, such as influential political documents, foundational literary works, and seminal historical and scientific texts. Texts should also be selected from among the best contemporary fiction and nonfiction and from a diverse range of authors and perspectives.

I looked at the illustrative texts and the commentary. I have some minor quibbles, but all in all they look fine. My main concern is that English class would turn into “a little bit of everything.” There should be literature class, and then there should be extensive reading and writing in the other subjects.

The math standards look promising, though the illustrative examples seem a bit on the easy side. Also, I am not sure why they avoided organizing the material around areas of mathematics such as geometry, algebra, linear algebra, calculus. Only probability and statistics get their own categories. Otherwise the material is organized around general skills and concepts. Why?


  1. Andrew Bell says:

    I don’t understand how these standards are going to improve the education of students. Any teacher worth his/her salt already knows that these items should be part of a student’s knowledge at the time of graduation. There is nothing significantly new here. Putting the items in a rubric won’t change anything.

    With better teaching these items will get addressed. Giving less-good teachers a list of standards won’t ensure that students learn the material. The teacher’s editions of texts have had student-learning expectations in them for years – these aren’t that different.

    Let’s focus on ACTION to improve each teacher, each school and each district by determining the shortcomings and working to address them. What can you do TODAY to improve your teaching, your school or your district?

    P.S. – The mathematics topics tried to break the topics into mathematical ideas instead of classes intentionally, I would guess. Probability, functions, equations, etc. permeate mathematics and examples of each may be found in all of the classes that were mentioned in the posting. I think most well-versed in math would find these to be reasonable groupings.

  2. Many university math departments shy away from statistics and only grudgingly accept probability as a genre of mathematics. Many public school math teachers have never had a course in either probability or statistics, so these are treated as “extra” or exotic topics. Probability and statistics get their own categories for the same parochial reasons that statistics departments exist separate from math departments (often in distinct colleges) in many major universities. Don’t even mention operations research…

  3. Mike Curtis says:

    Mike Anderson,

    Probability and statistics are part of every math class, from general math through calculus, taught in public schools. To say that teachers never took a course in these sub-categories is like saying that language teachers never took a course in reading or writing. You are right…to the educated, there’s no need to attend lectures on the obvious.

  4. The title, “Standards are not Curriculum” is exactly the point. We can outline the best standards, yet publishers of curricula such as Everyday Math, Connected Math and many other dubious programs proudly show how their instruction marches in synch. Most of us understand this is not the case. Maybe now is the time as the specific K-12 expectations are written to include the very substance that should NOT be included.


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