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
I was just re-reading sections of The Making of Americans by Don Hirsch, preparing to send out some encouraging words to my local district Board of Ed Curriculum Committee, when a new Rick Hess Straight Up shot across my screen.? Apparently, it's not just the local yokels who don't get the concept of background knowledge.? Et tu, Hess?
Between vague standards ? and standard vagueness in this country ranges from the opacity of White Out to a hole you can drive a truck through (though Fordham's recent report paints a slightly rosier picture) ?? and the tests that everyone wants to write for them is this yawning cavern?where curriculum should be. It is a cup and a lip that has spilled hundreds of thousands of kids onto our streets, including those who are very computer savvy, uneducated. And I'll add my scepticisim to that of Checker about the Finlandization of America that Rick sees in a common curriculum.? He prefers the Balkanization that we've lived with for the last half century?
As I pointed out the other day (Habits of Mindlessness), even Ted Sizer got it. As he wrote in Horace's School:
Good schools are places where one gets the stuff of knowledge?that is, crudely, ?the facts? ?where one learns to use that stuff, and where one gets into the habit of such use.
I'm sorry Sizer is not around to help guide us through the Internet revolution (he died
I cried. It was only Babes in Arms, but the kids sang and danced as if on Broadway?and some of them actually had Broadway genes in their vocal chords and gambly arms and legs.? A lazy Sunday afternoon and I caught the last performance of the high school play.? Not being a theater person, I am always amazed by these productions, since they always seem to hang by a slender thread, plagued by scratchy mics, falling props and costumes, and, of course, forgotten lines. ?But the kids'?efforts, backed by dozens of adults in the wings,?working the lights and the sound system,?playing in the orchestra, ?were so innocent and energetic that Yes, you couldn't help but get a little emotional.
But I started to get really teary?thinking of the next day's board meeting ?budget workshop,? the last of a series of painful meetings in which we public servant powerbrokers stare into the?sights of the budget howitzer and start firing, so to speak.??There, a few feet in front of me,?playing the French Horn in the orchestra was a young Intermediate school music teacher.? With a proposal on our plate to cut 12 percent of our teaching staff, his chances of surviving the knife were slim.
But it's not just him or even LIFO. It's where music and art seem to be?in the ?educational pecking order.? For many reasons our little school community, with dismal proficiency scores in STEM subjects, prized art and music.??And?these?intimate and
While having a very interesting conversation over at my post about The Digital Divide and the Knowledge Deficit (about the recent MacArthur sponsored conference at Hechinger), I noticed a fascinating story by Sharon Begley at Newsweek called ?I can't think!? that deserves special mention.? There seems to be new evidence to suggest that information overload is just that ? and the bombardment harms our decision-making faculties. Writes Begley:
The research should give pause to anyone addicted to incoming texts and tweets. The booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret. It has shown that an unconscious system guides many of our decisions, and that it can be sidelined by too much information. And it has shown that decisions requiring creativity benefit from letting the problem incubate below the level of awareness?something that becomes ever-more difficult when information never stops arriving.
Decision science, as the new field is called, would seem to raise many questions for educators, since the emphasis on "critical thinking" and "self-expression" has a great deal to do with the interchange between information and decision-making.? "[D]ecision science," writes Begley, "has shown that people faced with a plethora of choices are apt to make no decision at all."??And the alert for ciritical-thinking and self-expression adherents is this:? "One of the greatest surprises in decision science is the discovery that some of our best
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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