In Defense of Common Educational Standards (Common Core, if you will)

Common Core Cartoon

It will probably come as a bit of a surprise that the libertarian leaning (little L, please) Mensa Dropout is writing on the strengths of common educational standards. Here’s the thing with standards:  they are just standards.  Standards are different than curriculum, and curriculum is different than instruction.

Common Core Standards, or here in Georgia, Georgia Standards of Excellence (same stuff; different name, and we paid lots of money for that different name) are just that: standards.

Education has a three part thing going: simply put, education is how we teach what we teach to get to what we want our kids to know or do.

Standards are what we want our kids to know and do at a certain level in their education.

Curriculum is what we teach to reach those standards.

Instruction is how we teach the curriculum to get to the standards.

Below is an example from Common Core 5th Grade (I would like to point out that GSE has the exact same standard on page 33…just sayin’):

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.

There’s our Standard:  Students will be able to identify figurative language.  There is a writing component to it where we can up the ante and have students create a piece with figurative language in it.

How DARE we teach kids about metaphors and similes!

So the Curriculum is what venue we use to teach this:  definitions, flash cards, examples, short snippets from speeches, poems, stories, etc., or for the more traditional worksheet kinda person, well, a worksheet.

Can we use The Bible to read and identify figurative language?  Sure!  Can we use an excerpt from Mein Kempf?  Absolutely!  Or we could go middle of the road, and teach a little poem like “Sleep”, which is by a white female writer who was born in Victorian England, in case anyone wants to accuse me of communist brainwashing with my choice of poem.

Instruction is how we teach it:  small groups, giving more complex or less complex poems or speeches to students depending on their reading level or language acquisition.  Listening to the poem, reading the poem, guided reading and response to identify metaphors and similes…sorry; went total educational wonk right there.

Why is there so much antipathy for Common Standards?  I’m not sure. The only argument against standards that I hear is really an argument against the curriculum, not the standards.  It’s important that we understand the difference between the two.  My main argument for standards is our society is pretty transient, and kids move a lot more than they did when I was a kid. Nowadays, younguns may change schools four or five times in their lives.  Is there a reason why the child should be punished because the parents move a lot?  Shouldn’t we all be teaching close to the same standard around or about the same time so that if Transient Johnny does move in his fifth grade year from Kansas to California, he won’t be totally lost or, even worse, completely bored?

The fight over Common Core appears to me to be a fight between grown folks, and it’s the little ones who are caught in the middle and who are punished.   It’s like having divorced parents fighting over what is best simply because they want to be in charge…and the kids always, always lose.

Keep the standards; change the curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of the local community. Put the kids first because they are the ones who will be choosing our healthcare and old folks’ homes.




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