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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