Skip to main content

Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog: It’s Silly to Pretend Common Core is Not a Curriculum

"The Common Core has become a rallying cry for fringe groups that claim it is a scheme for the federal government to usurp state and local control of what students learn. An op-ed in the New York Times called the Common Core "a radical curriculum." It is neither radical nor a curriculum." -- Arne Duncan

Well, Arne Duncan got it half-right. It's certainly not radical.

I half expect Duncan himself to slam me (call me "silly," a "suburban mom" or a "fringe group"?)  for writing this, but here goes.

Disinformation about the Common Core, coming straight from the D.O.E. and spread across a compliant media, includes the myths that standards are home-grown and that they are simply standards and NOT curriculum.

In an unusually long Huffington blog piece, ed writer Joy Resmovitz reports:

Each state sets its own learning standards, and those get translated through thousands of districts and schools and teachers. The Core is supposed to unify this patchwork of efforts not only across states, but across the country. And contrary to popular belief, it's not a curriculum: School systems and teachers can choose their own instructional materials, as long as students know what the Core says they should know by year's end.

But curriculum is all about determining and deciding what's most worthwhile to teach and learn and how that teaching and learning takes place. What is most worthwhile to know and how and why it is to be taught? What literature will students be assigned? What textbooks, if any, will be purchased? Standards and assessment (testing) are certainly important parts of this complex and politicized curriculum landscape.

As we know, there are (and in a democratic society,should be) divergent answers to these most fundamental curricular questions and hopefully, divergent voices, especially those of classroom teachers, providing those answers. But to pretend that there's this Great Wall separating standards from curriculum is absurd as every teacher and school administrator is finding out -- if they don't already know.

Resmovitz goes on in the very next paragraph, to contradict her and Duncan's "not curriculum" pronouncements.

Students will learn less content, but more in-depth, coherent and demanding content. In other words, students should know fewer things, but they should know them better. The Core encourages teachers to move away from memorization and to ask students to show their work. In math, it means emphasizing such things as learning fractions and fluency in arithmetic. In reading, it means more nonfiction texts -- recommendations range from historical speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr., and Winston Churchill to more instructional reads such as the Environmental Protection Agency's "Recommended Levels of Insulation" and FedViews, by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. 

Leaving aside for the moment, whether reading nonfictional texts is "more demanding" and "more in-depth" than reading Melville or Morrison, there's no denying that less fiction/more nonfiction texts is a curricular decision. And there's also little doubt that the massive testing regimen attached to CCCS drives curriculum decisions at the school level. And those tests, along with their aligned (possibly) textbooks, all come from the same tiny but powerful group of publishers, ie. Pearson and McGraw.

To imply, as Resmovitz does, that these decisions emerge locally, with no pressure to conform to corporate or D.O.E. political interests, is really silly. State supes may be able to change its name or even drop out of Common Core altogether (at great risk of losing federal funding), but Pearson's tests will still drive the curriculum.

This blog post has been shared by permission from the author.
Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.
Find the original post here:

The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Mike Klonsky

Mike Klonsky is an educator, writer, school reform activist, and director of the Small Schools Workshop ( ...