Curricula are not standards; standards are not curricula. In the debate over the Common Core State Standards, definitions of key terms, particularly “standards” and “curricula,” vary considerably. For some, standards and curricula are one and the same. For others, standards are a framework by which curricular content is developed.
Although stakeholders may not settle on a definition, most education experts agree that it is important to make a clear distinction between the two concepts.
In general, standards are broad goals. In 2010, the N.C. State Board of Education adopted Common Core mathematics and English Language Arts standards for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The North Carolina Essential Standards inform all other core subjects and grades.
Curricula include specific course content either developed by the teacher or obtained from an external source. Teachers may use different curricula so long as it is aligned to the standards established for that subject and grade.
Arguably, the latter is more important than the former.
In fact, educational researchers have found no apparent relationship between the quality and the rigor of state standards, as determined by Common Core adoption and implementation, and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. These findings suggest that the content that teachers teach and students learn likely has a much greater bearing on student achievement than what standards alone may provide.
Simply put, standards reform is not enough to boost student performance. Standards are only successful when they are buttressed by content-rich curricula that serve as the basis for classroom instruction in all North Carolina public schools.
- Forty-two states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have adopted Common Core standards for one or both subjects.
- To date, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction has not released estimates of total expenditures related to Common Core implementation or assessed the relationship between Common Core adoption and student performance.
- In 2014, the N.C. General Assembly created the North Carolina Academic Standards Review Commission to assess Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics standards. In their 2015 Report of Findings and Recommendations, the majority of the commission members recommended that the state revise the current ELA and mathematics standards. The proposed revisions, albeit substantial, would leave the shell of the Common Core ELA and math standards intact. The N.C. State Board of Education approved revisions to the standards for required high school-level math courses in 2016 based partly on the commission recommendations.
- Currently, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction provides curricular resources to teachers without mandating that they adopt any one of them. The state supports various online resources and, for districts and charters that opt in, the Home Base suite of instructional resources and assessment item banks.
- North Carolina state law prescribes teaching of content in certain grades and course areas. For example, state law prescribes inclusion of a civic literacy curriculum during an American History I high school course. Health education, character education, and financial literacy are other content requirements outlined in the statute. The requirements to teach multiplication tables and cursive writing are two of the more recent curriculum mandates passed into law.
- Legislators should create two permanent commissions that would be charged with raising the quality and rigor of state English Language Arts and mathematics standards, curricula, and assessments. While the North Carolina Academic Standards Review Commission was a good start, a periodic and independent review of standards, curricula, and standardized tests would provide valuable feedback to state education officials.
- A standards, curriculum, and assessment commission should develop a rigorous state developed curriculum. Prescribing baseline curricular content would provide a more equitable education environment, ensuring that all students, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, are exposed to the same essential content. It would also allow the state to compensate for knowledge and skill deficiencies identified by institutions of higher education, private- and public- sector employers, and other stakeholders.