One of the many reasons I think that states should get out of the curriculum- and textbook-adoption business is that, when state governments start to dive too deep into the implementation weeds, they tend to do far more harm than good.
Take, California for example. In response to the 2009 budget crisis, the state passed a law that suspended all work related to the updating or adoption of instructional materials, including textbooks, for five years. (According to ?California Watch,? a bill currently awaiting Gov. Brown's signature would delay the adoption of new textbooks even longer.)
Unfortunately, while the intention of these bills?to save money during a fiscal crisis?is good, the execution is a disaster.
Now the state had adopted new standards for its schools?standards that will begin to inform statewide assessment in 2014. But, thanks to the state's convoluted textbook adoption laws, teachers won't have access to CCSS-aligned instructional materials until after their students begin taking CCSS-aligned assessments. (That is, unless districts are able to buy such materials with something other than state money.)
This is, of course, absurd. And, while this may be an extreme case of state incompetence, it's a good warning for anyone looking to mandate a ?shared curriculum? at the state or national level.
Decisions made in the statehouse are inevitably protracted. If states really want to help districts and schools implement the Common Core effectively, they should learn from California's mistakes and look for ways to simplify, not complicate,
Today, Jay Greene has an Ed Next column arguing against government mandated standards and curriculum. ?Most of the important elements of American education are already standardized,? he argues.
No central government authority had to tell school districts to divide their schools into grades or start in the Fall and end in the Spring. Even details of the curriculum, like teaching long division in 4th grade or Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, are remarkably consistent from place to place without the national government ordering schools to do so.
Schools arrived at these arrangements through a gradual process of market competition and adaptation?.Of course, not everything is synced, but the items that are most important to consumers often are.
That's how standardization in market settings works and we have a lot of positive experience with this in industry. ?VHS became the standard medium for home entertainment because the market gravitated to it, not because some government authority mandated it. ?If we followed the logic of Gates-Fordham-AFT-USDOE we would want some government-backed committee to decide on the best format and provide government subsidies only to those companies that complied.
Instead of ending up with VHS, they may well have imposed Betamax on the country?
Of course, many people agree that Betamax had the superior technology (the picture was sharper, the cassettes were smaller, it was better at high-speed duplication, etc.). So, in effect, market forces standardized the inferior technology.
But rather than belabor the
Catherine Gewertz (via John Fensterwald of the "Educated Guess" blog) has a post today about a group of seven California districts who are coming together to draft Common Core-aligned curriculum resources for their teachers.
?a group of school districts in California isn't waiting around for the state to build curriculum frameworks...[instead] CORE, a group of seven districts that pushed forward California's Race to the Top application, is rallying teachers to build instructional materials and formative assessments for the standards, which California and most other states have adopted.
At last! Districts taking the lead on curriculum and instructional decisions rather than waiting for the state to tell them what to do. Hopefully other districts across the country will follow suit.
Of course, let's also hope that the assessment consortia start releasing some more specific details (sample assessment items, perhaps?) about their summative assessments so that teachers can be sure that standards, curriculum, instruction, and formative and summative assessments are all properly aligned in terms of both content and rigor.
The CCSS ELA standards are, as you may remember, heavily (though certainly not exclusively) skills driven. The choice to focus on skills rather than content was deliberate and the standards authors themselves acknowledged that states would likely want to enhance these skills-driven standards with additional content. In fact, adoption states were told that the existing CCSS standards could comprise 85 percent of the total standards, giving the states the flexibility to add ?15 percent? atop of the final standards.
To date, it doesn't seem like too many states have taken seriously the charge of fleshing out this additional ?15 percent.? It's no wonder, then, that folks are looking to curriculum to provide teachers with more specific details about what content students should learn.
I've already argued against making curriculum decisions at the state or national level. I remain convinced that it would be a mistake to do so for lots of reasons. Among them, in this debate over curriculum, one thing that we shouldn't lose sight of is the important distinction between standards and curriculum. Done right, standards define the outcomes?the knowledge and skills that students must master. Curriculum, on the other hand, helps shape the process through which students will learn that content. In other words, curriculum helps shape (among other things) how the content should be organized, how it should be taught, etc. (Pedagogy gets at this as well, of course.)
We all know how long it takes
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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