Peter Cunningham

Please Stop Calling Common Core a “National Curriculum”

CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote a punchy piece about the politics of the Common Core debate, including the flawed rollout and the resulting confusion surrounding this important effort to teach children to high quality learning standards. However, Navarette inadvertently contributes to the confusion by referring to the standards as a “national curriculum.” But standards are not the same as curriculum. Standards are set at the state level and define learning goals. Curriculum is the actual content that is taught and is usually chosen and developed at the local level, often by the teachers themselves, as this veteran math educator explains. It’s an understandable mix-up for someone who doesn’t cover education everyday, but it’s still stoking the resistance to Common Core because opponents claim that common standards will lead to uniform curriculum. The fact is, states have always had standards but curriculum has always been locally chosen—and it is far from uniform. Standards are also not the same as assessments. Three states have withdrawn their commitment to using the standards, not 10, as Navarette asserts. But he may be thinking about the Common Core-aligned assessments, which several states have dropped in favor of their own tests.

Getting Straight on What the Common Core Is

As the debate around Common Core proceeds, it’s important to clearly distinguish standards, curriculum and assessments. One way to think of it is that the standard is the height of the high-jump bar, the curriculum is the training program that the coach provides to get the athlete to jump over the bar, and the assessment is where the track and field meet. Teachers, like coaches, take very different approaches to getting their kids over the bar. It’s thanks to their creativity and hard work that more of their students are doing so everyday.
Peter Cunningham
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with Whiteboard ...

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