James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
Mike McShane, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is in the middle of an interesting blog series: “Dispatches from a nervous Common Core observer (in 10 parts)." In his first post, he asks, “Is the Common Core Curves or Weight Watchers?”

McShane notes that Curves is a very scripted and regimented workout program, while Weight Watchers simply provides guidelines for users.

Many supporters of the Common Core say the standards are just that, standards. They don’t tell teachers how to teach, they simply set the end goal. If that’s true, then the Common Core is like Weight Watchers.

However, there is a lot of evidence that the Common Core State Standards are being implemented in a manner that provides little flexibility to local schools and individual teachers. McShane writes:

First, both consortia developing tests for the Common Core standards are developing … tests designed to be given throughout the year to make sure that students are on pace to reach the level of competence that the standards require. While making sure that students are on the right path is a perfectly reasonable and laudable goal, it has the unintended consequence of standardizing the order in which particular material is taught. It makes the standards begin to look more like a curriculum…


Second, there do appear to be certain pedagogical undertones to the standards. Tom Loveless wrote a fantastic post over at the Brookings Institution’s blog aptly titled “The Banality of Deeper Learning.” In it, he highlights language that has been used to support the Common Core (and many other educational projects) including “project-based” “inquiry and discovery” “higher-level thinking.” These tend to be code-words for an approach to education that de-emphasizes the learning of discrete facts and standard algorithms...

This is a very important issue. Many supporters of the Common Core have said, “These are just standards. They don’t tell teachers how to teach.” I’m just not sure I believe that. From what I’ve seen, it certainly looks like the Common Core is more like Curves.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.