To the Editor:
As the controversy around the Common Core State Standards continues, and resistance to the so-called “national curriculum” rises, we need to step back and make sure we understand just what the common-core standards are and are not.
There is a fundamental difference between standards and curriculum. In order to discuss improving student performance, a standard must be set by which student success will be judged, and that is what the common standards are trying to do—define standards that define success.
What skills do we as a system expect all of our students to know and be able to do? That is the fundamental question the standards are trying to answer.
Districts then design curriculum and materials to help their very diverse student clienteles meet those standards. For example, if we want our students to use number sense in high school to do complex math, what does that skill look like in 1st grade? Second grade? The common core sets the standards, and districts design learning experiences to help their students meet those standards.
The specific curriculum, instruction, and assessment issues are to be resolved at the local level through the implementation, feedback, and learning process that comes when policies are put in place. Catholic schools, if they wish, can use the materials they feel are foundational to their mission to meet the standards. At the same time, public schools in states that have adopted the common core are free to do the same. Both are local people making local curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions based on their situations, student needs, and resources.
The critical issue then becomes whether these local curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions enable students to meet the standards. That is the way standards work—to set the standards, not to determine the local curriculum, instruction, and assessments.
Weeki Wachee, Fla.
The writer is a retired educator.
A version of this article appeared in the March 26, 2014 edition of Education Week as Distinction Between Standards And Curriculum Is Critical Point