Hidden curriculum

Parents can’t check out Baltimore County Public Schools curriculum, complains BaltoNorth. It’s password protected on an intranet.

All we parents get to see on the website is fluff, peripheral material, and educational mumbo jumbo about “seeds“, “clarifications“, “sample assessments“, “thinking skills“, “Articulated Instruction Modules“, “Core Learning Goals toolkits“, “parent summaries” that don’t exist yet, and so on. And this comes in an Alice-in-Wonderland format that is impossible to skim in an efficient way.

Do other school districts make it hard for parents to access the curriculum?

About Joanne


  1. Diana Senechal says:

    Sure–by not having one in the first place!

    The New York State ELA Core Curriculum does not mention a single work of literature, and it is vague on the skills. I wouldn’t call it a curriculum. Parents can access it, but that doesn’t help much.

  2. Ours is on the district website. Personally, all my assignments are on my homework website. No mysteries. Dunno what anybody else does.

  3. Our local public library keeps a curriculum reference area for our public schools for parents or interested folks to pursue. It provides copies of all the text books for core subjects like: math, science, social science, and some language arts books and reference material. While this isn’t skill or content specific, it is a good snap shot of what goals must be. In a three-ring binder, they also provide a spreadsheet that lists the materials used and at what level within each grade and the literature selections for each grade/level.

    As a homeschooler I’ve found this helpful to gauge grade appropriate material.

  4. It’s not unusual for university departments and classes to put syllabi behind intranets to restrict access.

  5. Andromeda says:

    My local school system makes it easy (modulo awful web design) to find adequate information on curriculum for my purposes. Of course, this is why I’m 99% convinced my kid (now 2) will not be going to the local public schools. So maybe there’s an advantage to hiding curriculum ;).

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    In my state, Diana, the state publishes standards–which do not name specific works of literature at various grades. These are expected to be a part of the curriculum, which is developed at the district level.

    I used to be able to look at the district curriculum on the website, but it also is now password protected. I have sometimes requested, and finally gotten, copies of the grade level curriculum for a content area–to assist in writing IEP goals that are aligned. My impression is that there is a wide variance (within the district) in the quality of what is written, by content area. In some, there is basically a pacing guide, with reference to pages in texts. In others, there are actual lesson suggestions, projects, etc. One of these specified that one month be dedicated to test preparation. My thinking is that if you are dedicating that much time to test preparation (which should amount to nothing more than review of previously learned material), then you should really be looking into whether your kids are being adequately prepared by the curriculum.

    These are questions that parents should be able to ask–someone. In my district I can never figure out if they think we’re too stupid to be able to have an opinion on such things, or if they know how bad this stuff is and don’t want us to know. Either way–it’s time to quit.

  7. Janelle Wilson says:

    My district’s standards are online and they publish a book for each grade level that is given to the students on the first day of school.

    Our state standards are also available online with frameworks and lesson plan ideas that are available for everyone.

  8. greifer says:

    –t’s not unusual for university departments and classes to put syllabi behind intranets to restrict access.

    At the university level, this is often because of universities trying to enforce/claim copyright. They don’t want the info widely disseminated, and they don’t feel the teacher has the right to say otherwise.

    Is copyright used to as a gatekeeper in k-12 district level programs too?

  9. Am I missing something? You can call the school and ask what textbooks are being used, and the kids bring home a syllabus. What else is needed?

  10. “What else is needed?”

    You need the school to both have a syllabus for the courses and be willing to share it with the parents. At my kids’ school (still in elementary) I have never seen a syllabus or had the curriculum describes in an understandable way.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    Cal–I would say that a school that is using the textbook as its curriculum (while widely practiced–and probably far more so in pre-standards days) is not doing a very good job. Textbooks are catchalls intended to include every piece that is likely to be required by any school system in any state. If the curriculum is based primarily on “read the chapter and answer the questions on page 56,” kids are getting short-changed. A monkey can teach that–and I recall a long-term sub I had once for geometry who taught that way because she had been assigned out of field. It was not a good learning experience. A curriculum should be specific about what kids are learning, and when–and include some consideration about how grade three relates to grade four and whether the kids have had the math that they need to handle eighth grade science. Not to mention a modicum of quality control from classroom to classroom and building to building.

    My district paid some experts to conduct a curriculum audit a number of years back. The surprising conclusion–they didn’t have a curriculum. They had lists of course names and lists of text books. No curriculum. No consistency between what was being taught as French I in High School A and French I in High School B. Now they have curriculum. Next steps might be to take a look at how good it is.

  12. Aardvark says:

    It’s even worse than that in some districts. In the high school where I teach, we have five teachers who teach General Physical Science in 9th grade. Despite state standards and a district curriculum “guide”, two teachers use one textbook, two teachers use another, and the fifth uses none claiming the other two textbooks are “too hard”. One teacher refuses to teach a unit on geology because she doesn’t like the subject. She includes a unit on global warming instead. Neither the science department chair or the principal are able to force the teachers to teach the same curriculum.

  13. My state, SC, has their standards on the state website. For science, it’s at:


    This is a document that has linked documents that lay EVERYTHING out – background information, what the teacher needs to teach, what the teacher DOESN’T need to worry about (i.e., not on the test). Also has information about what background information the kids should have already, from previous grades.

    I just use that. The state also has summer workshops and during the school year PD to make sure all teachers are teaching to the standards.

    It’s a VERY comprehensive system. I’ve taught in other states, and it’s very hard to get this level of detail from them (or, sometimes, any useful information).

    Parents can view it, IF they know how to get to that page. Me, I plan to give each kid the address right in their syllabus next year, and encourage them to check it out.

  14. Well, when writing curriculum, the intended audience is teachers and administrators, not parents, so I’d be surprised if it were crystal clear to a lay audience, although it should be mostly comprehensible. We have parents on our curriclum committee, and even they don’t prevent the jargon from creeping in.

    Curriculum is also a living document that should live, breathe, and adjust itself to the needs of the children. For example, most of us at one level lost our satire units to brand new state testing this year, so the next year is going to have to adjust their curriculum to broaden their coverage of satire (which is a state standard at their level, but we always introduce earlier).

  15. Miller Smith says:

    I can send anyone the pdf of the Maryland State Curriculum Guide for High School Chemistry for them to keep, but I had to copy it from the school system’s intranet. I have had admin tell me not to give it to the parents or children, but they never say why.

    Upon looking at last year’s Chemistry Guide I found the state had removed the mole concept as somethng to teach.

  16. Barry Garelick says:

    In ed school, one of the many adages one hears repeated is “the textbook is a resource, not a curriculum.” Which is somewhat strange considering that in K-5 schools that use Investigations in Number, Data and Space, or Everyday Math, or 6-8 that use Connected Math Program, or high schools that use Core Plus or IMP, there is something called “Fidelity of Implementation”. Teachers are not allowed to deviate from these programs. (Adding to the strangness is that Investigations and Everyday Math do not have textbooks; only workbooks (called student journals).

    Fidelity of Implementation generally means “no supplementation”. Teachers who go off the program and teach the times table with the door shut, or use textbooks that they wish to use may be considered to be insubordinate and can be fired. It is not unknown for some schools for administrators to do a “sweep” and confiscate the “contraband” textbooks.

    While a textbook itself may not be a curriculum, a good textbook can certainly help a teacher to plan what lessons to teach and in what order–I’m thinking particularly of math classes here.

  17. I find it very frustrating when I go to a school web site and there is nothing about the curriculum/texts. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who finds this irritating.

    I automatically look at the math text a school is using. If it’s fuzzy, I know right there to avoid that school. We’ve also opted for a Catholic education for the kids and never regretted paying tuition.

    While no school is perfect, even among the Catholic schools, they still have a commitment towards academic excellence. The public schools are more about making kids “happy”.

    Right now I’m happy that we have teachers that actually TEACH our kids. In the public schools where I live, they are immersed in a Constructivist approach in the classroom where kids are expected to teach themselves. Inquiry based/discovery, etc. It’s no wonder my kids are miles ahead of the public school students!! They are busy RE-inventing the wheel!

  18. Teacher says:

    As a teacher of 35 years I beg you to pull your kids from public schools.

    There is no teaching going on there, just brainwashing for the coming police state.


    They are indoctrinating the children into being obedient to the planned global marxist society.

    If you believe in the constitution and the sovereignty of this country, take your children out of there immediately!

  19. “I would say that a school that is using the textbook as its curriculum (while widely practiced–and probably far more so in pre-standards days) is not doing a very good job. ”

    Many new teachers are so fond of their own curriculum that they don’t think about what’s best for their students. As a tutor (my life before teaching), I saw many students who lost all the lovingly crafted handouts the teachers gave them, and so couldn’t study for tests or review information. But that’s okay, because textbooks are just soooooooo structured. CF Not Invented Here.

    Textbooks are an excellent resource, no matter how lousy they are (and some are indeed terrible). A textbook is a central repository of knowledge for math, history, and science subjects (English, not so much). Any teacher who denies her students that repository is doing them a serious disservice.

    Now, back to the topic at hand:

    Don’t have the syllabus for elementary school? You should be able to figure out where the school is going and the speed with which it’s getting there. Besides, for the average suburban elementary school student, most of the curriculum is repetitive.

    I don’t think a textbook is a standin for the curriculum, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

    I just don’t see the reason that a school should go through the time and money to get a curriculum online when the few interested parents (and reporters, of course) can check out the textbook and review the work that comes home.

    I agree that teachers should use the same curriculum within a school, but that’s something that can be addressed procedurally.

  20. greifer says:

    –I just don’t see the reason that a school should go through the time and money to get a curriculum online when the few interested parents (and reporters, of course) can check out the textbook and review the work that comes home.

    I suggest you read this post over at KTM, Kitchen Table Math. It’s about how in some schools, there is no work that comes home.


  21. I’m still trying to figure out what the big deal is about putting the curriculum on the web site. Angelicum Academy does it.

    Why can a home-school web site provide people the information but a public school cannot? That’s absurd.

    Although I don’t blame the fuzzy schools for keeping their curriculum off the web site, I wouldn’t advertise fuzzy curriculum EITHER! Why advertise you are dumbing down the education at your school via the web site?

  22. Margo/Mom says:

    I am so happy to be having this conversation. It is gratifying to meet other parents who have experienced the same frustrations that I have. I recall reading a study somewhere along the line of homework and various benefits. The author made the point that homework served as a means of communicating to parents what was being learned. Very likely true. But, as with many things that are primarily traditional, schools are fighting a fight to maintain a form that might have had advantages other than those primarily intended (to extend classroom learning), but is difficult to maintain in changing situations (the lack of mom’s at home to greet a kid at the door and sit them down to do their homework before they do anything else).

    If, on the other hand, we ask the question about whether the original benefits–intended or unintended–can better be achieved through other means that better fit the current situation, then we can frequently find solutions and stop beating our heads against immovable walls. June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson show no signs of returning soon (and some of us can testify that they weren’t there in our growing up anyway). If we can get over that particular sense of loss–we might be able to realize that parents remain interested in their students’ progress and learning AND that there are even better ways to communicate with them.

    I think that a piece of what is revealed in this conversation here is that “curriculum” is all over the place in schools today (although, I would argue probably less so than in the Cleaver/Nelson days). Some schools actually write curriculum and don’t mind sharing it, because teachers are engaged in using it in the classroom. Some schools rely on either textbooks, individual teachers, or purchased “programs” to provide the curricula. Fidelity of implementation of a program (which would be inclusive of learning strategies, etc) is important if one is evaluating, or if the particular program has demonstrated value that the district want to ensure is being disseminated. I would argue that such “programs” are also a poor substitute for a thoughtful curriculum.

    I have to wonder if our schools have the capacity to plan and implement curriculum in a meaningful way. I am not so discouraged as to think that getting there is impossible–but I do believe it will require a culture change. In schools where teachers actually collaborate on curriculum, and evaluate efforts with an eye to improvement, I think that even brand new teachers with no experience can be well supported. In schools where everyone closes their doors and does what they believe is best, there may be tremendous things going on–but, also some really crummy things. Those are the kinds of schools that believe it’s too much trouble to provide parents with access to what their kids are learning.

  23. Barry Garelick says:

    Education in the days of June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson was such that students didn’t often need help from parents in order to do homework. Now schools are dependent on parents to actually teach their children what they simply don’t teach them in school. Like math facts for example.

    And what good is an assignment like writing a research paper (3rd grade) when the students haven’t been instructed how to do research, construct an outline, and so forth? What happens it that parents have to do the instruction the school leaves out, and most likely the project as well.

  24. “I suggest you read this post over at KTM, Kitchen Table Math. It’s about how in some schools, there is no work that comes home. ”

    If in fact the parents never see what their students are doing–ever–then yes, we could certainly agree that schools need to ensure that parents have access to their students’ work. But that’s different from demanding the form that it take.

    As a recent ed school graduate (or survivor), I think the fuss about curriculum is extremely overrated.

  25. Since my kids are not permitted in the public school system, simply because I prefer them to graduate…LITERATE let’s look at a few things.

    First of all, we pay for pubic schools. It’s reasonable to request posting texts/curriculum online. It’s really not that big of a deal to request transparency, is it?

    Second, my youngest will be starting 5th grade next year in a Catholic school. Last year two kids from the public schools transferred into his school to start 6th grade. After a few weeks they quickly discovered that those two children were no where near the other 6th graders who had gone k-6 in the Catholic school. Those two children were then placed in the 5th grade.

    By 6th grade our students are ONE grade level AHEAD of the public school students.

    When my son brings home his homework, rarely do I have to sit down with him and do it with him. ONce in a while he’ll ask me a question for clarification, but often times he knows how to do the homework because luckily he is in a school where they actually TEACH instead of allowing him to flounder around trying to teach himself.

    I’ve personally tutored kids who were in math classes where they were expected to teach themselves Alg. I. Here’s a clue…it didn’t work. They came to me and I did the job of the teacher…and TAUGHT them.

    Now are we going to continue to try to figure out why our country falls far behind the rest of the world? I’d say it’s pretty simple. TEACH the KIDS.
    RETURN TO TRADITIONAL methods of teaching
    Kick PSYCHOLOGY OUT of the Schools of ED and Education

    Oh, and one more point…my 12th grader last year had to read several books for his Honors American Lit class….
    Books like:
    The Great Gatsby
    The Fountainhead
    Grapes of Wrath
    My Antonia
    A Farewell to Arms
    The Scarlet Letter
    …and a few others

    Compare that to the reading assigned to a friend in the public high school that had to read…I LIKE GUYS by Sedaris who is a gay activist and The Crack Cocaine Diet.

    Now…..who do you think is getting a QUALITY education?

    The Ed establishment in many public schools rejected the Traditional Carnegie type of Education and bought into the fads that will prepare them to flip my hamburgers at McDonalds!

  26. Am lit is usually 10th or 11th — I don’t consider those senior level novels, esp. for an Hnrs. or AP class. You might want to compare your school’s curriculum to that of schools (public, usually) doing IB or AP to see what advanced seniors are generally asked to read. We use My Antonia for freshmen, for example. My seniors, depending on the course, are asked to read:
    Wuthering Heights
    Jane Eyre
    Reservation Blues
    Heart of Darkness
    Paradise Lost
    The Importance of Being Ernest
    Shakespeare (Othello, Macbeth, and/or Taming of the Shrew)
    Mrs. Dalloway
    One Hundred Years of Solitude
    Assorted Kafka and Borges
    Palace Walk
    A Tale of Two Cities
    Pride and Prejudice
    Poems from Sound and Sense and The National Poetry Project
    The Metaphysical Poets
    etc… probably other stuff I can’t think of.

  27. Ragnarok says:

    “You might want to compare your school’s curriculum to that of schools (public, usually) doing IB or AP to see what advanced seniors are generally asked to read.”

    Why not look at the standard seniors’ reading list?

  28. MOMwithAbrain says:

    My son already read some of those books on your list prior to entering 11th grade. I think he read Jane Eyre, Shakespeare’s Othello and Taming of the Shrew and Pride and Prejudice in 8th grade.

    As far as IB goes, it’s a Constructivist setting where kids have to teach themselves. I’m not sending them to school for the teacher to “facilitate”. IB is more political indoctrination courtesy of UNESCO. I’d rather he be educated, instead of indoctrinated. IB is on record for being a program that seeks to create peace activists among the student population via Values Clarification. My kids are not seeking to become UN peace keepers.

    His Honors America Lit was not an AP class.

  29. MOMwithAbrain says:

    To clarify, he’s a SENIOR this coming year. HE is taking British Lit. We don’t have a list of books that he’s required to read just yet, but I thought he said it would be The Centaur by John Updike
    and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and MacBeth? Not exactly sure just yet.

    Last year he took American Lit in 11th grade.

    Note the lack of TRASH that is required reading in the nearby public school, with that of what the private school requires.

  30. I’m a great fan of Sedaris, actually, but am surprised that they get away with teaching him. I don’t think he is trashy at all (Holidays on Ice is an incredibly sweet exploration of human vulnerablity), but neither is he really suitable for high school.

    I suggested the reading list for IB, not the program itself. Please don’t have a caps-cow. The literature selections are excellent, regardless of how they are taught.

    Jane Eyre in 8th grade? I guess that’s when you’d have to teach it so all the sexual innuendo and social transgressiveness will sail over their heads. It’s always been one of my favorites, but it is sooo much more fun to read now.

  31. Margo/Mom says:

    Updike is British?

  32. Maybe all those Rabbit books really took place in ‘burbs of London.