(Guest Post by James Shuls)
In a recent Education Next blog post, Peter Meyer wrote about the tendency of Common Core opponents to conflate the idea of content standards with curriculum. He writes, “It is not a small distinction, since standards provide goals and a curriculum provides the day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year road map for reaching those goals.” He goes on to say, “From both a pedagogical and political point of view, it is crucial to keep the distinction between standards and curriculum clean and clear. But, most importantly, we need to try as hard as we can to get the facts straight.”
I agree with Meyer in many regards. If Common Core supporters want to build support for the standards among Republicans they absolutely must differentiate the Common Core from curriculum. I also agree that we need to get the facts straight. Unfortunately, this is something that Meyer’s post fails to do.
This conflation of ideas is not simply something Tea Party activists or Common Core opponents are guilty of, it’s widespread. Do a Google search for “Common Core Content Standards” and “Common Core Curriculum Standards.” You’ll get more hits for the later. Curriculum and content standards are often used interchangeably. Teachers, principals, and even assistant superintendents are guilty of as much.
Last year I contacted my children’s school and requested a copy of the curriculum. They sent me a one-page summary of the Common Core and an excerpt from Children’s Mathematics: Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI)
When I met with them and asked about the curriculum for spelling and reading. The teacher’s response was, “We’re following Common Core.”
When I asked about the math curriculum, the teacher told me they were using CGI to teach the Common Core. The principal even told me that she researched it by asking the district’s assistant superintendent for education about the district’s math curriculum. The answer—Common Core State Standards.
I tried to correct them. I tried to point out that these are standards not curriculum, but they were insistent. The problem is that the distinction between a “content standard” and “curriculum” is only a matter of degree. This distinction is not clear, not even for many educators.
Let’s look at an example. If I say students in first grade should be able to “Express the length of an object as a whole number of length units, by laying multiple copies of a shorter object (the length unit) end to end” Is that simply a standard or is that an activity that could be part of a lesson?
Meyer somehow tries to defend the distinction between Common Core and curriculum by noting that the standards must be complimented by a curriculum; an attempt that falls flat on its face. Demonstrating that a Common Core curriculum must be developed to implement the Common Core Standards simply illustrates that the standards will dictate curriculum to local schools. This strengthens the link between standards and curriculum.
Conflating standards and curriculum is not some ploy by opponents of Common Core. It is a widespread problem because the two are inseparable; just like love and marriage—you can’t have one without the other.