Among the many arguments raging—and more than a little mud-slinging—around the Common Core State Standards, perhaps the most arcane involves the blurry border between academic standards and classroom curricula.
Begin with the fact that neither term has a clear definition. Most people hazily understand that standards involve the destination that students ought to reach—i.e., the skills and knowledge (and sometimes habits, attitudes, and practices) that they should have acquired by some point in their educational journey. Often it’s the end of a grade (“by the end of fifth grade, students will know how to multiply and divide whole numbers”), sometimes the completion of a grade band (“by the end of middle school…” or “during ninth and tenth grade”).
Curriculum, on the other hand, is what Ms. Robertson teaches on Tuesday, in week 19, or during the “fourth unit,” and it generally consists of scopes and sequences, actual lessons, textbooks, reading assignments, and such.
Over a stated period of time, curriculum combined with pedagogy, properly applied by teachers and ingested by students, is supposed to result in the attainment of standards.
But it’s blurry. Standards range from vague to specific and from few to numerous. Curriculum ranges all over the place, from a forty-seven-minute lesson to a yearlong, even multi-year scope and sequence.
In general, in the U.S. in 2013, states prescribe standards, at least in core school subjects, but they...