Checker Finn and the folks at Fordham have made the “conservative case” in support of Common Core. In it they have reassured those concerned about centralized control that Common Core embodies a “tight-loose” approach, which is tight on the ends of education but loose on the means for accomplishing those ends. Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy Checker assured us, it only requires that “everybody’s schools use the same academic targets and metrics to track their academic performance” and “then those schools can and should be freed up to ‘run themselves’ in the ways that matter most: budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and more.”
Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards.
In fact, there is no Common Core curriculum, radical or otherwise. Words matter. The Times essay, Cunningham says, “conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn.” There is no such thing as a “radical curriculum” because there is no such thing as a common core curriculum.
These were the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune. No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach — their pedagogy and curriculum. Instead, Fordham and their friends are now judging schools on whether they are properly implementing “instructional shifts—ways in which the Common Core standards expect practice to differ significantly from what’s been the norm in most American classrooms.”
I thought Common Core didn’t determine “practice.” Now Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee argue:
In order for standards to have any impact, however, they must change classroom practice. In Common Core states, the shifts that these new expectations demand are based on the best research and information we have about how to boost students’ reading comprehension and analysis and thereby prepare them more successfully for college and careers. Whether those shifts will truly transform classroom practice, however, remains to be seen.
The National Council on Teacher Quality, with support and praise from the Fordham Institute, are grading teacher training programs on whether “The program trains teacher candidates to teach reading as prescribed by the Common Core State Standards.” Wait. “Prescribed?” I thought Common Core didn’t prescribe pedagogy. But that was back when I was young and we were dating.
It would be nice if Fordham and others trying to hold down the right flank of the Common Core advocacy campaign could keep their story straight. The switch once the fight has shifted from adoption to implementation creates the impression that these folks make whatever argument they think will help them prevail in the current debate rather than relying on principle, evidence, and intellectually serious policy discussion.