Common Core is a guide, not a blueprint

By Kathreen Harrison | Dec 04, 2014

The Common Core should be treated by school districts as the draft of a guide for curriculum development rather than as a blueprint. During the next few years, as we try to implement the standards outlined in the draft, the need for revisions will become clear.

Common Core standards for the early years of schooling, for example, reflect a misunderstanding of the developmental level of 5-, 6,- and 7-year-olds. Young children live in a rich world where fantasy and reality coexist. This is why our cultural mythology rightly includes Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

Yet the Common Core considers it important that first-graders distinguish a work of fiction from a work of nonfiction. Why promote Santa Claus and at the same time insist that young children recognize the impossibility of magical pebbles and talking animals? Children develop in stages, and it is a waste of time to work against the natural developmental grain. Curriculum should hug a child’s developmental stage rather than act like a bulldozer, trying to rush maturity. Like elephants, humans were formed to mature slowly. The Common Core rushes early childhood.

On the other hand, the insistence of the framers of the Common Core on teaching older students to back up their conclusions with evidence is laudatory and potentially very helpful to bolstering our democracy. Adults trained to question what corporate leaders, politicians and advertisers say could only strengthen reason-based decision-making at the polls. The Common Core reminds us that a key purpose of education is to teach students how to tackle important issues, develop informed beliefs, dream up solutions to problems and provide hard evidence for those beliefs and inventions.

School districts should look to the Common Core for guidance, but should not adopt its standards hook, line and sinker. In fact, school systems should be wary of adopting any one system or set of ideas, however well intentioned, without selective, critically-based custom tailoring -- be it Common Core, or the currently popular works of Marzano. Wholesale, unquestioning adoption of the latest new idea leads to the ridiculous merry-go-round of educational styles in this country that prevents deliberate, significant change from taking place in our schools.

With age and use the Common Core will probably improve and could well prove very valuable to creating better schools. At present, however, it should be treated as a draft guide awaiting revision after extensive testing in the field. Rule-bound districts that treat it as gospel will inevitably lose the educational race, while other, more sophisticated districts continue to function as they always have, relying on the wisdom of talented, experienced educators, and using new, promising programs as handy tools to be tested cautiously until they prove tried and true.

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at
Comments (2)
Posted by: Carol W Bachofner | Dec 07, 2014 16:28

There is an opt-out possible for parents who do not wish their kids to be the guinea pigs in what may turn out to be a failed "flavor of the month" experiment. Parents ought to be asking questions like "how many hours of testing will my child be doing?" and "how many hours will it take my child's teacher to secure data and plug it in to the multi-page report card?" (hint: the Kindergarten report card is FOUR pages long). Parents ought to be asking why Smarter Balanced Assessment IS sending along personal data on every student who takes the test, including personal information. ASK about LDM (longitudinal data mining) and then decide if you want your family's info "out there." Maine says it doesn't data mine, but it lets SBA do it obliquely. Ms Harrison is pretty right on here. I go one step further and say that we (Maine) ought to be going in favor of local assessments, local curriculum, and trusting the professionals to teach without threatening their jobs over "student outcome." Parents need to be informed about what is REALLY happening and then speak up loudly and persistently.


Posted by: Kenneth O Frederic | Dec 07, 2014 08:53

My understanding, Kathreene, is that "high stakes" testing instruments will be aligned to the curriculum and the consequences for students performing poorly on these standardized tests are severe, for both the schools and the students.  In my day, the only 'high stakes' test I knew of was the SAT.  I've also been told that these tests are being constructed and sold by the same folks who produce text books.  There's a LOT of money attached to Common Core.  What I'm saying is that I fear teachers, schools and even school boards risk losing funding and getting lots of federal 'help' if they don't swallow Common Core whole.  I'd love to have your perspective of that in a future piece.  Despite having provoked some moonbat to post a screed that more welfare is the only answer to the 'elephant', I'd also value your teacher's perspective on the value of more meaningful parental involvement and the means by which that might be encouraged.  I've heard many 'experts' testify that parental involvement is discouraged and viewed by Common Core advocates and practitioners as interference in the education of 'their' children.

If you wish to comment, please login.