New standards need good curriculum

The new Common Core Standards require a good curriculum that puts reading first, writes E.D. Hirsch, Core Knowledge founder, in the New York Daily News.  A content-lite curriculum, especially in the elementary grades,  has “depressed student knowledge levels, caused verbal skills to decline and perpetuated a competency gap between demographic groups over the past generation,” Hirsch writes.

Since the 1980s the verbal scores of American high school seniors have not budged despite efforts like charter schools, accountability systems and a meteoric rise in educational spending. Other nations, whose students experience the same distractions of TV, Internet, video games and sometimes show the same diversity of population, have improved over this period.

Demographics don’t explain why students of all kinds haven’t improved, Hirsch argues.

What changed was the anti-intellectual ideas that fully took over first teacher-training schools. The result was a retreat from a knowledge-based elementary curriculum. That led directly to our sharp decline in verbal ability and test scores.

Why do I focus on verbal scores? Because they correlate with general knowledge, with the ability to learn, communicate and complete jobs effectively.

The “powerful connection between verbal ability and general knowledge is reflected in the new standards,” writes Hirsch, but he’s not sure the day-to-day curriculum will reflect that.

Education philanthropists should fund an independent board that will assess whether school materials “are likely to be effective in building knowledge and vocabulary, and thus recapture equality of opportunity, good citizenship and a path to prosperity.” Without this, fragmented, diluted curriculum could undercut the new standards.

Update: Common Core (not the folks that wrote the new standards) asked teachers to write K-12 English Language Arts curriculum maps for the new standards.

By year’s end, we expect to release a revised version of the maps as part of an expanded web site that will allow educators to submit lesson plans and to both comment on and rate various aspects of the maps.

The curriculum maps are free.

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  1. I agree, but good luck. Anti-content is so entrenched that I don’t know how it can be stopped. It can be on a small scale, which is better than none, but I don’t see it happening at the county and state level at all. My children’s teachers are against content (I ask them all and only 1 has ever been pro increased content and she was a great teacher). I asked this very thing of my son’s third grade teacher the other day. She emailed me back saying she only does the minimum required in social studies. She suggested that I teach him at home. My friends who are teachers in public schools are against content and say that test scores are poor because the children are poor. The principal at my child’s school told all the teachers to only do the minimum in science and social studies (told to me by my son’s now retired first grade teacher). I know this happens at other schools in the county too because one of the principals admitted it in an interview with a newspaper. The county superintendent is against content. Not one new initiative that I’m aware of in the county has been about improving the content of curriculum, except one. When the state of MD required a science state assessment for all 5th graders the county was required to start teaching actual science content in 4th and 5th grade. How did my daughter’s fifth grade teacher handle it. In the “science” class she read from the manual and the kids listened. Not one activity, not one homework assignment. Needless to say, I’m now homeschooling my 6th grader.

  2. Gina,

    Thanks for sharing your experience; I found it interesting. The situation is similar in my small CA district. On California’s STAR tests, math and English combined account for 85% of a school’s API score. Until this changes, timid principals aren’t going to budge from their narrow literacy and numeracy focus. They might waiver a bit if they read and comprehend E.D. Hirsch who shows that science and history are key to increasing reading comprehension. NCLB and RttT are really wreaking havoc.


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