Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum

Into the fracas over the Common Core initiative
dives this Education Researcher paper
by UPenn education dean Andy Porter and several of his colleagues. It explains similarities
and differences between the Common Core and current state and international
standards, using the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC) as its metric. The SEC
is an analytic framework developed at the Wisconsin Center
for Education Research that categorizes ELA and math content by two variables:
topic (e.g., multistep equations, inequalities) and cognitive demand (e.g.,
memorize, perform procedures, demonstrate understanding). In all, the SEC
identifies nearly 2,000 of these distinct types of “content” (the product of
combined topic and cognitive demand variables). Experts then analyze and match individual
standards with SEC content components and use these metrics to compare various
sets of standards and curricular materials. The paper finds that—of the
twenty-seven states’ standards that are analyzed—state and Common Core
standards differ significantly, with the latter generally demanding a higher
level of cognitive reasoning than the standards of the states. Despite this
rigorous cognitive demand, the Core standards place less emphasis on advanced
mathematical concepts in algebra and geometry than do the average set of state
standards. What’s more, the Common Core standards don’t align all that well
with international standards. For example, Finland,
Japan, and Singapore all place greater
emphasis on “perform[ing] procedures” than does the Common Core. Whether or not
you completely buy into the SEC’s framework model, with its levels of rigor and
definitions of content, these findings raise a cautionary flag about states’
abilities to quickly implement the Common Core standards and leads one to
question whether these common standards are less aligned with the expectations
of other countries than was previously thought.

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Andrew Porter, Jennifer McMaken, Jun Hwang, and
Rui Yang, “Common
Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum
” (Washington, D.C.:
Educational Researcher, vol. 40, no. 3, 2011).