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Shaping Curriculum From Common Core Standards

One of the observations I often hear about the common-core-standards movement is that it seems to have moved very quickly from standards to assessments, skipping past the meat of the sandwich: curriculum. What is the content that should be assessed?

The American Federation of Teachers explores this landscape in the new issue of its magazine, American Educator, which appears on the Web today. The union, which recruited teachers to help design the standards, delivers something of a clarion call for a common core curriculum.

In an opening essay, the editors argue that the United States has fallen behind higher-achieving nations because it has failed to define and pursue what is fundamental to education, rather than what is peripheral.

"While we have been dabbling in pedagogical, management, and accountability fads, [other countries] have written common-core curricula—and that has made all the difference," the editors write. "A common-core curriculum is not just a piece of paper that guides the teacher; it is a living document that guides and brings coherence to the whole educational endeavor."

A curriculum, it says, defines the skills and knowledge students need to be economically productive and socially responsible citizens, and a common curriculum, shared by all schools, would ensure that everyone in education is working toward the same goals. And since a common core curriculum would occupy only two-thirds of instructional time, the editors say, that leaves teachers plenty of room to build on students' interests and respond to local priorities.

In such a system, teachers don't have to guess what will be tested, because teaching the curriculum would be sound test preparation. Students will not lose ground if they switch schools, and textbooks focus on what's most important, they argue. Teacher-preparation programs are built to ensure mastery of the curriculum, and teachers work together—in person and through the Internet—to design methods and materials for teaching it.

Articles in the magazine explore various facets of standards implementation, all focusing on the power of the curriculum—as distinguished from the standards themselves or the assessments—to improve learning.

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