March 13, 2010

Common Core Standards. Common Core Problem

It's interesting to see the mess that Obama is walking into with his backing of the States' new "Common Core Standards". In principle, it sounds as fudgy and wrapped up in abstract goals such as "excellence" and "world leading" as any other changing school curriculum in the world at the moment.

Until you read it.

And then you realise it's far from fudgy, but not in a good way. It's one of the most prescriptive curriculum outlines you could have asked for, and clearly few educators have touched it, seen it, or passed their metaphorical red pens over it in the drafting stage. Worse still, the conditions under which it is being adopted are, how do you put it, totalitarian. Susan Ohanian explains what's wrong in a superb piece at the Huff Post:

…How about Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800), presented as an Exemplar Text, for 9th graders? When I grappled with Wordsworth's great principle of emotion recollected in tranquility as a grad student, I figured I had only myself to blame.

According to the Burlington Free Press account, both Obama and Douglas offered toasts with glasses of water. One can only wonder what the people devising the Common Core were drinking. The Exemplar Text lists offered as an appendix to the Common Core are baffling -- and ludicrous -- at every grade level.

In order to qualify for the pots of money President Obama is eager to hand out, states must accept 100 percent of the Common Core standards document. They cannot pick and choose. Exercising any judgment based on what teachers and parents know about kids and about literature is forbidden.

Education Standards Titanic The common core problem with these common core standards is based on two basic premises which, I believe, no curriculum should forget:

i) if you're wanting to change education you've got to involve education from the start. And, even when you think you've done enough collaboration, add a bit more: Scotland's curriculum has been in the making for at least eight years and still people want more time to reflect on what it means for them. The mistake we're making, I think, is not just getting on with it and tweaking as we go. Scotland has a problem with not "releasing early, releasing often" (in theory, at least - I think of the hundreds/thousands of educators I know about who have been teaching along these lines for years);

ii) curricula are there to provide framework and scaffolding. They are not there to do the choice of building materials, the types of brick, the layout of the rooms or the interior designing of our learning. Politicians abroad, and closer to home in our own education blood bath of impending elections, would do well to remember that.

As a side-note, I find it vaguely amusing that the Columbus Dispatch, citing Ohio as the first state to adopt the Core Standards (above), features an advertisement for the Titanic exhibition. How appropriate.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

"clearly few educators have touched it, seen it, or passed their metaphorical red pens over it in the drafting stage"

Not sure what you mean by "few." Maybe you believe standards should be written by mass Twitter-feed. Anyway, it should be pointed out that many teachers and former teachers were on the working group and feedback group for the drafting of the standards. See:

Also, many organizations reviewed early drafts and involved teachers and former teachers in doing so (AFT, NEA, CGCS, NCTE, NCTM, etc.) See for example:,

It sounds like you have criticisms of the standards. Get out your metaphorical red pen and make them here:

It's a shame that you chose to be anonymous here, because it makes the conversation harder. From your IP address, though, I can see you're based in either California or Oregon, and in either case it appears to be from an independent school. Correct me if I am wrong.

Knowing where you're coming from in terms of expectations is important, because the suggested texts for K5, for many of the students I've taught and worked with at that age and a little older, are wholly inappropriate - they'd turn them off reading for life.

Also, early in the document there are promising undertones about the new forms of texts that youngsters have to be able to understand, although they're not specified as they are, for example, in the Scottish equivalent ( However, there's no mention of suggested 'reading' in the domains of the web, video game culture.

These are, of course, just draft standards and I have started to provide feedback as a "not in US", an international outlook that is welcome :-)

I don't think Twitter is the right tool to gather teacher input - but its ethics are. While many organisations may have fed into the process, and you *say* many teachers have fed into it, too, the process is, to me at least, completely hidden.

Making the process transparent is not about "cool PR" - it's about making sure that when the first draft is released, there's a body of data out there to show HOW the draft was reached.

Funny this should appear here today: I was just reflecting on how restrictive I found it when I was told what texts to teach at Higher (pre-Higher Still) English. On the other hand, it may be that some teachers set the bar too low (I know this happens in some classrooms) and never get beyond mediocre texts. This doesn't help any student, let alone the able ones. But I never did like Wordsworth...

I am trying to research whether or not there were to be common textbooks nationwide or statewide. I thought I read something like that.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

Recent Posts