Rating the Common Core Standards

by Robert Pondiscio
March 23rd, 2010

The Fordham Foundation, which like Core Knowledge, came out in support of the draft Common Core State Standards, has gone back to take a closer look.  They still like what they see.  The math standards are ”rigorous, internationally-competitive standards that earn an impressive A-,” their report says.  The ELA standards rate a “solid B.”   With some clarification of vague standards and the addition of more references to specific content, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee at Fordham’s Flypaper blog, the ELA standards “have the potential to be top notch.”

“On the implementation side, if these standards are going to realize their promise and truly drive student achievement, states will need to ensure that these standards are linked to rigorous, content-rich curricula and outstanding instruction. Even rigorous standards, after all, only describe the destination. But, assuming that these drafts only improve in the revision process, we think that states would be wise to consider their adoption.”

The distinction between describing the destination (standards) and the way to get there (curriculum) is, alas, lost upon the editors of the Wall Street Journal who editorialize against efforts to “standardize what is taught in American public schools.”  National standards, says the Journal ”are no substitute for school choice and accountability.” Over at Public School Insights, Claus Von Zastrow says the Journal is engaged in magical thinking.  “Don’t do the hard work of figuring out what all students should really know and be able to do. Let the market’s invisible hand shape the standards! ’Higher standards will be the fruit of such reforms, not the driver.’  Sure,” he writes.

By “making explicit the essential role of building knowledge in reading and hence the need for a coherent curriculum that builds knowledge across grades” the Common Core Standards essentially function as a call to upend the incoherent, process-driven literacy block in elementary school.  Kind of surprising the Journal–among others–would not see and support this important distinction.


  1. The WSJ really tips their hand in that editorial.

    I have reservations–not opposition, reservations–toward a highly prescriptive national curriculum (read about Texas lately?)– but I fully agree that standards are nothing without content-based curriculum and good instruction. As long as a curriculum is broad enough to leave some wiggle room for locally important issues and innovation, it’s only sensible to frame out the essential content for all American children, and focus on the best ways to get that content to stick.

    I agree with Claus–promoting school choice and accountability over curriculum and instruction is the elevation of form over substance.

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — March 24, 2010 @ 9:43 am

  2. “Physics is the only real science,” Ernest Rutherford famously said. “The rest are just stamp collecting.” I’m tempted to start using that idea to describe education reform. “Instruction and curriculum is the only real ed reform. The rest is just stamp collecting.”

    The WSJ are clearly paying attention only to the stamp collectors.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — March 24, 2010 @ 9:48 am

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