And furthermore: David Steiner on curriculum

In my interview with outgoing New York education commissioner David Steiner, whose passion for curriculum has been no secret, I asked about curriculum and the common core and I think it is worth excerpting some of our conversation:

EN (Education Next): How do we get teachers to see the need for a rigorous, aligned, and common core curriculum?

DS (David Steiner): Oh, I think that by and large they do.

EN: And who should write such a curriculum?

DS: Well, first of all, when I discuss the idea of a state wide curriculum with the leaders of both the NYSUT and the UFT [teacher unions], they were and are enthusiastic.? They are our partners in this work and I think that the key is the design.

You don't want a kind of French straightjacket, where you say that at 11:15 on Monday morning every 11-year-old is opening the same page of the same text.? That doesn't seem consistent with our traditions, our history, and our culture.? On the other hand, it's true that right now we have a total fragmentation and even within the same large high school, within the same grade, you might have teachers teaching at a very different content level and [different] content itself.

So how do you build a really attractive, flexible curriculum that has modules that could be used, not only for students who are on grade level, but for those who may be a year behind, for the ELL students, for special needs students?? How do you give examples of best practice, on video and in other ways?? I think we need to bring in our teachers, our university professors, business community and our best technology designers.? We have 22 million dollars or so in Race to the Top for that work.? There is interest from other states as well.? This will be exciting work.

EN: So who's writing it?

DS: I don't want to bind my successor, but I'm sure that we will bring together the best expertise that we can find.? This is not an American tradition, and there lies a challenge.? It has, as you know, historically been very much left to not only the local districts, but often the local school and I think while we have standards of course, those standards have translated uncomfortably into what we would call a curriculum.

EN: Can you give teachers the argument for the aligned common core curriculum?

DS: Oh, absolutely.? I mean, there's every argument for it.? First of all, there's an equity argument.? We have students in this state who are, through no fault of the teachers, but just because of the history in that school, or the training and preparation of those teachers, or the lack of resources or whatever it may be?those teachers are teaching material that is one year, two years below (in content sophistication) what it needs to be.? That's an equity problem.

Second, there's a resource problem.? By having multiple different and fragmented curricula, we can't get the quality we could otherwise get from a really, superb curriculum that has online, that has multimedia, that creates internal assessments for students that enables the teachers to get data about performance.? All of that is much too expensive for an individual district, still less a school to be able to produce.

And third, we've never had a common set of standards before that have been back-mapped from college and career readiness, which is what the Common Core standards are.? And so, for the first time we can say we have a ladder to college and career readiness.? It's time to build that curriculum on that ladder.

Is this the model for creating a national core curriculum?? It's surely a good start.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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