New Curriculum Standards Focus on Depth Rather than Width

But does that mean the Common Core will leave some material behind?


At the mere mention of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in my article last week, a truckload of emails was dumped upon my head. Sifting through them, a couple things became apparent. Many parents had either never heard of them, or heard teachers mention them at Curriculum Night but thought it sounded like the same old story in a different package. Or, of the readers who knew about these new state standards, none were jumping up and down with glee over them. 

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 is responsible for the testing students are required to take to make sure they are meeting standards set by individual states. The Common Core addresses the need, as outlined in the CCSS website (www.corestandards.org) for states to align their standards with one another. It is a state-led initiative to develop a consistent sets of goals and create uniform expectations in school curriculums and instruction. State participation is voluntary and, to date, the Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 48 states.

My initial reaction was mixed, both “This sounds like a great idea” and “This sounds like it’s going to cause some huge issues.”

No Child Left Behind snowballed into a big, fat disaster for a myriad of reasons. One fundamental issue was putting the cart before the horse …”We have this great idea, let’s have all kids in all states take this test under the same conditions with measurable goals to improve education! That sounds fair, right? If they meet the high standards and pass the tests, they get federal funding … but wait, what research are we using for this? Who is going to say what the standards are? The states? But then can’t some states set low standards to get funding? No, that would never happen…” 

The Core Standards seem like an attempt to fix the little issue of making sure the states’ standards are high, in line with each other, and everyone is on the same page. It also seems like a big step toward taking education out of the states’ hands and federalizing it. But almost every state adopted it so it must be good, right? Well, the ideas do look good.

 The “mile wide and an inch deep” material taught in U.S. public schools has been widely criticized with very good reason. When I taught 4th grade, I had to teach units on Colonialism, the Revolutionary War, forming the government, and moving West.  I barely touched on the three branches of government before we were off to “manifest our destinies."

The Core Standards focuses more on exploring curriculum in depth than on covering as much ground as possible. However, that does mean either the school day and/or year would need to expand or some units would be history (it’s a pun, get it?). Actually, the Common Core only addresses math, language arts and media and technology at the moment, but you get the idea.

Ralph Thayer October 13, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Circa 1967 my "old school" history teacher (in her last year before retirement) required us to memorize the first part of the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution, and the whole Gettysburg Address. About two years later, my "new age" English teacher (her first year out of teacher college and complete - in class - with Moratorium arm band) preached that American exceptionalism was a myth. I reckon Gramsci's Long March Through the Institutions first breached Waterford Public Schools about that time. The result, IMHO, has been generations ignorant of America as "the only nation in the world ever founded on a creed" (G.K. Chesterton). We are not better for it. Understanding and living the principles of American liberty will get you through times of no quadratic equations better than quadratic equations will get you through times of no American liberty. Ask any naturalized citizen, or aspiring immigrant. I only wish I could believe that today's curriculum standardizers appreciate the whole role of schooling in passing on the blessings of liberty to our posterity as fully as "old school" teachers did, and as home-school teachers can. And, for his part, as Antonio Gramsci did, too, as it served his purpose. For he knew that men who do not believe in Natural Right do not believe in nothing, they will believe in anything. ###


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