A national curriculum?

Common Core math and English Language Arts standards aren’t rigorous enough to prepare students for college work, writes Sandra Stotsky on Jay Greene’s blog. Yet wording in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would force all states to use tests based on the new standards.

States should be able to pick “internationally benchmarked, research-based” tests that satisfy their high school diploma requirements, argues Stotsky, who headed the writing of Massachusetts’ standards. “They may prefer objective end-of-course tests in algebra I, geometry, algebra II, U.S. history, chemistry, physics, and biology instead of ‘performance-based’ subjective tests.”

The two federally funded consortia developing tests for Common Core are creating what amounts to a national curriculum, writes Rick Hess. That will push all schools to teach the same material at the same time to give students a chance to pass the new exams.

The American Federation of Teachers wants a “common, sequential curriculum” to match Common Core standards so teachers “are not making it up every day,” reports Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters, quoting Randi Weingarten, the union president. (More here on what the test-writing consortia are working on.)

Congress banned the use of federal funds to write a national curriculum in 1979, but the consortia argue they’re just writing “curriculum frameworks, model instructional units and such” or a “clearinghouse of curriculum resources,” not a curriculum.

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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    There are different definitions of “curriculum” floating around here.

    One kind of curriculum is the de facto curriculum that will accompany frequent tests. If the tests are developed in advance of curriculum, the curriculum will have to match these tests rather than the other way around. This could present serious problems–for instance, if the tests focus mainly on skills, then it may be difficult to “squeeze in” content.

    Another kind of curriculum–perhaps what the AFT is recommending–would precede the tests. It would lay out what students were supposed to learn–that is, the subject matter as well as the skills. Each state might have its own, or there might be several from which to choose. It might protect the schools somewhat from a de facto curriculum based on tests.

    In any case, there is much to figure out. First of all, the terms need clearer definition. There has been much confusion about the relation of standards to curriculum, as well as the meaning of curriculum itself. The standards are not curriculum, as they themselves make clear, yet many refer to the standards as “curriculum” or “curricular standards.” Thus, many assume that a curriculum already exists or follows directly from the standards and tests. This is not so.

  2. In the rest of the known world, there are clear distinctions between “requirements” and designs of products or services that meet requirements.

    A requirement in this sense is a need that must be met. Defining a requirement does not tell you HOW you meet that need, just THAT the need must be met.

    If someone wants you to build them some cel phones, they may require that the cel phones weigh less than a pound, or use less than 4 amps of current, or that they withstand a fall from a height of 3 feet.

    This doesn’t dictate whether you use plastic or aluminum, NiCad or Li batteries, or special foam or springs for absorbing shock. It doesn’t dictate if it flips open or not, has a touch screen or a keyboard, or has a camera.

    And in the engineering world, for every individual requirement, a product maker designs a test to prove that their product MEETS or EXCEEDS that requirement–and this test is supposed to be designed independently from the design choice itself. In many cases, the customer who created the requirement has their own test of it, and all candidate designs will be tested against it.

    By the same token, standards in education are requirements–requirements of textbooks, teachers, or students, depending on how they are written. They are the performance minimums. Adequate assessments are needed for such standards–and of course, a curriculum should be design based on the tests, because the tests are just a way of testing the requirements, so that is how you can determine if the curriculum implemented the requirements.

    But none of this defines a curriculum anymore than requiring that the cel phone be under 1 pound and pass a 3 ft drop test defines a design for a cel phone.

    Someone still needs to design the cel phone such that it implements the requirements. And someone still needs to design curricula. Lots of different curricula can meet the same requirements.

  3. The United States should have had national standards for Math, Science, Social Studies, and English Language Arts over 100 years ago. It would force those states that never can keep up (*cough* Mississippi *cough*) to get off their collective bookends and start working harder to educate our citizenry, to get them ready as global citizens of a 21st Century Earth.

  4. Shawn Kimball says:

    When we live in a time where skills are becoming more and more important, how can anyone think it is wise to set the same daily curriculum for more than a couple teachers to use? Does this mean that a teacher does not slow down when students don’t reach the essential understandings nor acquire necessary skills? This curriculum must just teach to the test that is probably neither valid nor reliable. Sounds like a giant step backward. Colleges need to make changes so working to get students to do better in college makes me skeptical as well. Do our colleges really know what student need to know and be able to do for jobs in the the next 5-20 years in these fast-changing times? Authentic, integrated project and problem-based learning is necessary. Not common enough in most colleges and universities that I hear about from students.