Standards or Curriculum, Curriculum or Standards?

Over at ASCDedge (a professional networking community managed by, of course, ASCD), Steven Weber reflects on recent Education Week coverage on the topic of Common Core State Standards and how it relates to curriculum.  One of the key questions Weber asks those in “the community” is “Do you think that the Common Core State Standards are curriculum or do you believe there is a distinct difference between standards and curriculum?”

When I was out at ASCD last week, I heard some very similar concerns from educators across the country.  Lots of teachers freaked out by CCSSI because they believe it is the “new curriculum” to go with the new world order likely coming through the reauthorization of ESEA.
If one ventures over to the CCSSI website, it is nearly impossible to even find the word “curriculum.”  In describing what CCSSI is, the good folks at National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are pretty darned clear about what common standards are, and curriculum ain’t it.  Just take a look at the description:

The standards are informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world, and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn. Consistent standards will provide appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:

    • Are aligned with college and work expectations;
    • Are clear, understandable and consistent;
    • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
    • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
    • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
    • Are evidence-based.

Lots on skill.  Lots on standards.  Nothing about curriculum.  The closest we have is they are built upon current state standards, which in theory tie to current state curriculum.  But is there anyone who believes that the hodgepodge of current state standards is very definition of a model curriculum?
So why the confusion and the concern?  First and foremost, it is driven by a lack of information.  CCSSI was released nearly a year ago, and virtually every state in the union has signed onto the movement.  But beyond those policymakers who put their states into the CCSSI camp and those consultants who wrote Race to the Top applications pledging to follow the Common Standards, few actually know what this means.  We’ve signed on to CCSSI, the thought process goes, so now what?
In the absence of information, we make it up.  We know CCSSI isn’t assessment and tests, because we have federally funded tests aligned with CCSSI currently under development.  But the feds don’t develop curriculum.   So we have a choice.  Vendors claiming their products are the CCSSI curriculum or the notion that CCSSI is the curriculum itself.  And while many vendors may be quick to claim CCSSI alignment, no one has yet been bold enough to claim they are the embodiment of the curriculum itself.  The only remaining choice, then, is that the standards must be the curriculum.  After all, what value is the alignment of product if it isn’t aligned to both the standard and the curriculum?
We all know that moving the concept of common core state standards into practice is going to take time.  We have standards.  We are developing tests.  It is now likely going to take us a few years to develop a curriculum (particularly with the 15% add ons most states will take advantage of) and then create the professional developments and supports to go with it.  Yet here we stand, expecting all of this to take hold in a matter of months, rather than the years it typically takes the education community to get up to speed.
Before we rush to accept national standards as a new curriculum, it seems we need to ask ourselves one important question.  Do national standards mean a national curriculum, or is curriculum best left to localities and teachers to determine?  Seems CCSSI is all about providing us one universal yardstick, but it should be left up to the user to determine how to hit a given mark.

29 thoughts on “Standards or Curriculum, Curriculum or Standards?

  1. Common Core Standards by its name itself demands a Common Core Curriculum. For Math and Science it’s a bit easier, but Language Arts and History would be an absolute cage match to create common knowledge.

  2. Our view is the standards guide the development of the curriculum. Standards need to be converted into Enduring Understandings which students and teachers can use as learning targets. Those targets then guide the development of assessments through which students can demonstrate their progress toward the learning goals. With those articulated, teachers can create instructional experiences for the students to achieve the learning goals.

  3. The Line Between Standards and Curriculum

    A couple of midweek standards-and-curriculum tidbits for you: Those of you who are intrigued by the fuzzy conversations about curriculum for the common standards might appreciate this rumination on the situation by Patrick Riccards over at the Eduflack blog. He…

  4. I am currently studying the Common CORE Standards. They are indeed standards. The task is for school corporations and teachers to design a curriculum based on them. The standards intentionally do not have a more specific curriculum map to avoid negative responses implying the Federal Government is trying to control public education. Also, just to put more information out there, the “Common CORE” were not initiated by and are not specifically promoted by the Federal Government. “Race to the Top” funds involved financial incentives for states to adopt standards geared toward college and career readiness. If they wanted to make their own, great. If they wanted to adopt the recently designed “Common CORE,” great. The intention of the Common CORE has always stressed VOLUNTARY state adoption. It just happened that states either were not prepared to develop their own revised standards soon enough or, as some states already had revisions in the works, they felt the Common CORE Standards were close enough to or better than theirs and recognized the benefits of having more uniform goals and expectations across the nation.Sources include current Education journal and magazine articles as well as websites such as and

  5. I agree with both Jeff and Caitlyn. I just had a dispute with a colleague on how to approach presenting the Common Core Standards to parents. In her eyes she felt that the standards and curriculum are one and the same and that’s how parents will understand it. I don’t intend to promote misconception and will make a presentation on the differences. I poured over the standards during the summer while planning my curriculum. Allowing me the opportunity to unpack the standards, develop the enduring understandings and essential questions and build tasks using Bloom’s Taxonomy that are challenging and rigorous for each of my units. I was then able to plan curriculum work based on how I expect students to meet the standards. Please understand that I have been studying, reading, absorbing, etc. the standards since they came out and still have much to learn. Much of what is included in the CCSS is solid teaching work. The challenges are that states have rushed into adopting them and are creating assessments for this year based on them rather affording educators and districts the time for thorough professional development and immersion of the standards.

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