Below is a guest contribution by Leslie Beck, who is a former math teacher and mom who lives near Des Moines, IA. She runs the Stop Common Core in Iowa Facebook group and helps me administer Iowans for Local Control’s Facebook page.
The Curriculum Conundrum
By Leslie Beck
Who would have thought that something so seemingly mundane as textbooks could create such a national debate. This is the big question: Do the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) mandate curriculum? The answer is a definite no. The problem, and it is a big one, is that CCSS drive and influence curriculum. In many cases, the influence is having negative consequences.
The truth is that some school districts are making poor curriculum choices. They are looking for ways to align to CCSS. Schools are seeking curriculum with that "CCSS-aligned" label as if it is a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. There are a few problems with that. First, CCSS offers no replacement or refund if the curriculum is defective. Second, anyone can publish a curriculum that is CCSS-aligned. There is no approval process for alignment. The curriculum may be fantastic or it may be garbage. It could be full of propaganda, errors, or inappropriate content and still meet the standards. The curriculum may even say that it aligns even though it doesn’t adequately cover the standards at all.
So why are we seeing so many issues with curriculum in the news and posted on the internet? Is this a new problem? Most likely, there have always been examples of poor assignments and lessons. Some of the increased attention is because parents, in large numbers, are starting to pay attention to what material is being used. However, the problem has been compounded by CCSS because many of the standards are developmentally inappropriate for the grade assigned. CCSS also narrow the choices for schools. For example, CCSS are written in favor of reform or fuzzy math, not traditional math. Therefore, there is no CCSS-aligned traditional mastery math curriculum available to schools – CCSS and traditional math education approaches do not seem compatible. If a CCSS-aligned traditional math curriculum is available, please post that in comments. (Saxon Math may be the only option, and we were told that has been dumbed down) Many parents and teachers would welcome that option. Another issue is that Pearson owns the majority of textbook companies and is a big supporter of CCSS. So most CCSS-aligned textbooks will come from a Pearson-owned company now. Good luck finding a true variety of choices when they all come from the same company. The field continues to narrow.
There are plenty of examples of inappropriate lessons or homework that have nothing to do with CCSS. That does not excuse them. However, we can’t automatically blame everything on CCSS. In fact, most state Departments of Education are quick to point out that CCSS is not to blame for any of our current curriculum woes while schools are quick to point out that CCSS made them do it. Convenient, isn’t it? No one accepts the blame and the students are the ones who are short-changed. If parents question something, respectfully ask the teacher for some clarification on where the lesson is coming from. Is it teacher created, district created or part of a CCSS-aligned curriculum? Even if a teacher says that it is because of Common Core, parents should go another step and find out whether it is the CCSS-aligned curriculum or if it is actually part of the standards themselves. Whether it came from a poorly designed CCSS-aligned curriculum or is actually part of the standards themselves, Common Core State Standards is what is driving its use in the classroom.
As Bill Gates said, “identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to those standards.” The actual textbooks may not be mandated however when we have Pearson creating a monopoly on the textbook industry, we are left with no real meaningful choice.