In the just-released Math Publisher’s Criteria document on the Common Core Standards, the authors say this about (bad) curricular decision-making:
“’Fragmenting the Standards into individual standards, or individual bits of standards … produces a sum of parts that is decidedly less than the whole’ (Appendix from the K-8 Publishers’ Criteria). Breaking down standards poses a threat to the focus and coherence of the Standards. It is sometimes helpful or necessary to isolate a part of a compound standard for instruction or assessment, but not always, and not at the expense of the Standards as a whole.
“A drive to break the Standards down into ‘microstandards’ risks making the checklist mentality even worse than it is today. Microstandards would also make it easier for microtasks and microlessons to drive out extended tasks and deep learning. Finally, microstandards could allow for micromanagement: Picture teachers and students being held accountable for ever more discrete performances. If it is bad today when principals force teachers to write the standard of the day on the board, think of how it would be if every single standard turns into three, six, or a dozen or more microstandards. If the Standards are like a tree, then microstandards are like twigs. You can’t build a tree out of twigs, but you can use twigs as kindling to burn down a tree.”
Hallelulah! As readers and friends know, I have been harping on this problem for decades, and especially with regard to mathematics instruction and assessment. So, to have such a clear statement is welcome. Not that I am naïve enough, however, to think that a mere statement will alter some people’s wrong-headed thinking and habits. But this should catch some attention.
Longstanding problem of teaching bits out of context. This problem of turning everything into “microstandards” is a problem of long standing in education. One might even say it is the original sin in curriculum design. Take a complex whole, divide into the simplest and most reductionist bits, string them together and call it a curriculum. Though well-intentioned, it leads to fractured, boring, and useless learning of superficial bits.
Here is John Dewey on the problem – and the false analogy with physical taking apart that it is based on – writing over 100 years ago: