Why Common Core standards aren’t curriculum. An everyday example

I’ve been talking with people who get very excited about the common core and there seems to be a mix up about what is a standard, what is curriculum, and the role a teacher plays in the learning of children.

Here’s the light-hearted metaphor/simile/analogy: Doing laundry…

I want my own two kids to have clean clothes that smell good. It’s part of my job/mission as a parent. It’s part of caring for them. It’s not the only thing (there’s food, safety, loving home, etc).

So, I go about doing the laundry. I use a HE washer and dryer – that’s high efficiency, baby! It’s a new tech, so I had to learn that I have to get special detergent for HE machine and it uses less water. It’s nothing space age or anything, just an evolution of the water wasting washers that we all know and love. I add some detergent and fabric softner (liquid for the wash AND a sheet for the dryer). I like the sheets, because they seem to be the real static gate-keepers and the fuzzy bear in the commercials is cute. So, after I rush to get the clothes out of the dryer they don’t pop with static, they aren’t wrinkled (unless I ignore them and let them sit) and they smell and look clean. Yay- success! I put them on my kids and that is my part in keeping my kids in clean clothes (of course, I also brush teeth, get haircuts, etc… but for this example, I am keeping it simple).

So, what does that story have to do with the Common Core and teaching? It has “loads” to do with it! See what I did there? Laundry loads.

The goal is to provide my kids with clean clothes- similar to providing a good education. It’s part of my mission, it is not the sole thing that I do for my family but one area. Just like educators are not the only ones responsible for teaching kids and building our community (families, churches, cultures, business -they all play a part). Mission= clean clothes/education of children.

The washer and dryer are the tools that I use to clean the clothes. It’s not easy, I have to know what I am doing or I will not get the clothes clean or worse, I could ruin the clothes. I could put bleach in the wash or shrink the clothes with too much heat. I have to know what I am doing. I use many different tools/things to get this done (detergent, dryer sheets, the machines themselves). These are
Like what teachers do in their classrooms – they learn how to teach, what strategies to use, what not to do, what books to select, what ways they can engage students, what strategy or resource does what. I wouldn’t want to mix bleach and drier sheets up! That is part of being an expert (in education and doing laundry). I have to now my stuff and know how to go through steps to get the desired result. Teaching = process we go through to do laundry/teach kids. Curriculum = is the different chemicals and tools that we use for laundry/different materials and techniques that are selected for specific purposes of education. PD = the training I received from the manual and years of helping my mom do laundry/ training I receive from my college, building PD, books I read, and instructors I’ve learned from.

My favorite part of doing laundry is looking at my favorite shirt and thinking, “I will wear this for a special occasion” or “I won’t have to iron this one”, also the ell of the clothes, “They’re April fresh!” I like golden them and noticing how warm they are – I they aren’t warm then I know I missed something in my process. If they don’t smell good, then maybe I forgot the fabric softener or detergent. If they still have a stain, maybe I should have pre-treated them (that’s complicated when they need special attention due to a pre-existing stain)! Anyway, that’s how I know that I’ve done a good job with the laundry – I’ve done the steps and the end result is great. Sure, the clothes could get ripped along the way – heck, the colors might fade or the style will change. But that is more about the lifeboat the clothes, not what I do each week to make them clean and fresh. Common Core State Standards = the specific descriptions of what clean clothes from laundry look like/ the specific descriptions of what learning should look like). These specifics help me know what I am trying to do and what it looks like when I am doing it – the smells and look of clean clothes/the skills and abilities of educated kids.

The Common Core is just that. It doesn’t have to be done the exact way that I did it. You can use a washboard and hang them on the line on a nice day. They would still meet the standards of “clean”. You can pick a special detergent (powder or liquid), you can pick a certain scent of dryer sheet or detergent and get a different smell or quality. They would still meet the standards of clean.

As teachers – complaining about he Common Core is often confused with “what” we teach, “how” we teach, and “learning” how to teach. It ain’t that at all! Having a standard is a good thing – a way to see if what we are doing is what we set out to do. That’s all. That standard has been there all along, but now it is defined and it’s a set of standards that can apply to many places and many different classrooms. This is a good thing.

Think about this’s metaphor/simile… Where does differentiation for in? What about kids with special needs? What about teacher evaluation? What about purchasing textbooks? What about formative assessments? What about longitudinal study? What about tenure? What about differences between classrooms and school culture? Now, think about what the Common Core is (and isn’t)!

Sure, in this example someone can criticize the way I do laundry and they can even try to prevent me from ruining the laundry (especially if I am bleaching or shrinking all of our clothes)! That has nothing to do with being able to agree on a common standard.

I hope this helps people to understand what the common core smells like, looks like, and feels like. It also helps to remember the feeling and joy of surrounding ourselves with the warm “fresh out of the dryer” laundry. The memories we have from when our parent did laundry and the gratitude we had for having clean clothes! Okay – the last part is sappy. 🙂

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