Concept Over Content: Common Core, Curriculum, Testing, and School Choice

I watched Common Core: The Great Debate for the second time today and I noted some things being said by the anti-Common Core side that the Fordham Institute side did address, but I’d like to give my own point of view on.

The first was that Common Core does not indicate actual content.

Fordham Institute’s President, Chester Finn, did deliver quite a smack down on this himself, but I wanted to go one step further and, similar to Common Core, address the issue in conjunction with the need for school choice.

As Finn says in the debate, people who are anti-Common Core and people who are in favor of school choice should BOTH be pleased that Common Core does not dictate much in the way of content.

I don’t think anyone on either side of this debate is anti-school choice and how can you have school choice if schools are all required to teach from the same curriculum and book list? It wouldn’t be impossible, but it certainly wouldn’t be as effective.

Parents who are invested in their child’s education and want to find the best school for them (which is why we support school choice) are going to be looking at multiple factors for what school they want to send their child too. It’s not just a matter of what their graduation rate is or how many of the school’s teachers have Master’s degrees (I’ve attended schools with a high rate of both and they still sucked), but also a matter of curriculum.

There are several sections of the standards for literature that could be taught using basically any book and the concepts in these standards are good ones for students to have, so the issue really breaks down on whether the teacher is assigning Twilight or Henry V for the students to study.

Can a teacher instruct the students to learn the concept of CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3: “Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).” using Bella’s inane and self obsessed rambling? Yes, they can.

That doesn’t change the fact that, given the choice, I’m going to send my child to a school that’s teaching the same concept by a close reading of Shakespeare’s Saint Crispin’s Day speech. The curriculum a school or teacher chooses can tell me just as much (sometimes more) as the school’s graduation rate or college acceptance rate.

But that only applies if the school has choices. If the school is required to teach only from a list of “approved” curriculum, the fact that the reading list for 11th grade includes Les Miserables and Twelfth Night tells me nothing about the quality of the school or teachers at the school. I have no idea if the teacher is good at teaching those texts or if they will ruin Shakespeare and classic French literature for my child forever. (This very thing nearly happened to me.)

The second is that federal testing will force certain content to be taught by Common Core.

The standards for Literature especially, which is where I feel most of the criticism on the assigning of curriculum, is about teaching concepts and the ability to understand and analyze what you are reading.

I believe that this fear of federal testing is coming from the idea that while Common Core doesn’t require any divisive, inappropriate, or politically biased books to be taught, that the tests created by the federal government will create de facto reading lists because of what they choose to test on.

The problem is if the federal test is compliant with testing the standards set forth by Common Core then the choice of content won’t matter.

Take a look at the standards for 11th and 12th grade.

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You don’t need to study certain texts to be able to analyze them on a first reading. At least you shouldn’t need too if you are being taught the standards correctly.

If what I’m being asked on the test is following the concept of the standards and I’ve been correctly taught how to do everything in the standards, then I should be able to answer questions whether I’m being tested on an excerpt on The Bluest Eye or Othello, Twilight or The Count of Monte Cristo. 

If that’s not what they are testing, then the people who wrote the tests are idiots who aren’t actually trying to test Common Core standard education.

That’s not Common Core’s fault.

The third is that the anti-Common Core side has a completely opposite views on state accountability during the same debate.

This isn’t so much an issue of Common Core, but I hate people who aren’t consistent in their arguments.

During the same debate the anti-Common Core side of the table said that the federal government would have to get involved with Common Core because there was no way that states or schools would hold themselves accountable (I’m not sure I agree here, especially not if we implemented more school choice as I’ve said before) and then, less than 20 minutes later, they insinuated that states would, on their own, establish the most rigorous of standards if the federal government would stop breathing down their necks.

I’m really not sure how this works guys, because I’m pretty sure that if states are so lazy and hate accountability so much that they can’t even be accountable to Common Core (which they voluntarily signed up for) there is absolutely no chance that they have the ethics and accountability to do all the work of formulating their own standards that will be as kick-ass as you think.

You can’t have it both ways on this topic.


I have no degree in Education, let me make that clear, I just have a lot of opinions and good observation skills. Maybe that’s a point in my favor. Honestly I think the anti-Common Core side of this debate would have benefited from the Common Core standards, because I did not see a lot of understanding or analysis of the concepts or standards they were denouncing.


  1. Completely and 100% correct. There are minor issues with Common Core but none of them should be dealt with until we deal with larger issues like Teachers Unions.

  2. Pingback: Real Change in Education: Part I | The Conservative New Ager

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