This summer, the National Governors Association partnered with the standardized testing industry and 47 states to create national education standards for high school students. Yesterday the coalition released its initial draft standards in English/language arts and math.
On English/language arts in particular, it would be too generous to call the results a "curriculum;" the draft focuses more on skills than knowledge, and in some ways, is even vaguer than predecessor efforts. For example, 35 states already roughly align their standards through the American Diploma Project. That program calls for students to write at least one six to 10 page research paper before graduating from high school. But the new Common Core standards only require that students "gather the information needed to build an argument, provide an explanation, or address a research question." In writing, they must be able to "sustain focus on a specific topic or argument," but there's no word on what "sustain" really means. Is it a five-paragraph essay? A meaty research paper? A persuasive letter to the editor?
For comparison's sake, in Finland, whose schools are rated best in the world by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, students are required to write a research paper in every single high school course, including the sciences.
This Common Core draft would represent an improvement on the current patchwork system. But the coalition must produce much more detailed standards if the goal is really to guarantee that every American high school student is exposed to a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for either higher education or the job market.