“The Common Core is Not a Curriculum”

What is the Common Core? How should it be used?Guest blogger

Katherine AliKatherine Ali is a dual-certified elementary and special education teacher. She recently graduated as a literacy specialist with a Masters in Science from Manhattanville College. She has experience teaching internationally in northern China and now teaches in the Bronx, NY.

As a first year teacher in the Common Core Era, I felt fortunate to have the Common Core State Standards as a guide for my instruction, especially working in a school with an under-developed curriculum and limited resources.  One of my most used applications on my phone was CommonCore, day in and day out.  Studying and closely reading the standards helped me choose the literature I wanted to share with my students, and furthermore it affected how my students and I were going to interact with those materials.  A video created by D.C. public schools, seen during a presentation I attended, was a turning point in my own understanding of the major differences between the Common Core and a curriculum.


The Common Core informs teachers about the strategies and skills students need in order to be successful in the future and to compete with other students from different educational backgrounds.  In the Key Design Consideration within the CCSS there is a section titled “A focus on the results rather than the means” which states:

By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed…Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.

So the standards have marked the spot with an X, and now we, as educators, get to design exciting and rigorous treasure maps, commonly known as curricula. I prefer treasure maps.The Common Core is not a curriculum

I am a deductive thinker, so I tend to look at the big picture and work downwards – similar to the philosophy of how the Common Core State Standards were created – to prepare our students for college and future careers.  So, how are our students expected to demonstrate their College and Career Readiness according to the CCSS team?  What is the buried treasure?

  1. They demonstrate independence.
  2. They build strong content knowledge.
  3. They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  4. They comprehend as well as critique.
  5. They value evidence.
  6. They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  7. They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.

This portrait of a college and career-ready student can be fulfilled through a curriculum containing interesting and powerful pieces of children’s literature that meet the needs of each school’s population. A Common-Core aligned curriculum focuses on teachers and students utilizing a variety of meaningful materials measured by their content and text complexity.

In order to ensure my students were Core-Ready, I rebuilt my library with literature centered on diversity, social justice, and globalization.  These books became teaching partners in the classroom when I began asking evidence-based questions and cultivating the students’ appreciation of facts and proof.   Reading (and re-reading) books of varied topics and issues also overlapped with other fundamentals of the CCSS, specifically students understanding different perspectives and cultures.  Thus, each grade level’s Common Core State Standards are the end of the year goals for the students (the treasures) while the curriculum educators and building-leaders develop is everything in between (the adventures).

Further Reading:

Using Children’s Books to Teach About Love and Belonging

What does close reading look like in first grade?

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