Curriculum

For a printable (PDF) version of this statement, click here: Curriculum

One question, THE question, which has yet to be asked by Congress, is this: What are the goals of education in America? In other words, what do we wish to accomplish? That question should have been asked before Congress reauthorized ESEA as No Child Left Behind in 2001. Until Congress asks that question — and answers it – NCLB should not be reauthorized. President Bush and Congress did not ask THE question in 2001, and that is why NCLB has turned out to be such poor legislation.

Curriculum is the road map we use after we have answered the question: What are our goals? Curriculum tells us what our children should learn in order to achieve our goals. What should they know and be able to do by the time they graduate?

Because Congress failed to ask and get answers to THE question when it reauthorized ESEA in 2001, one unintended consequence of NCLB has been a narrowing of curriculum throughout the country. Because of NCLB, according to Diane Ravitch, we actually now have a national curriculum. Our national curriculum? Improve last year’s standardized test results in reading, math, and writing. Because geography, history, current events, the arts, science, technology, and physical education are not included in the standardized tests required by NCLB, teachers in every subject area are directed to spend unusual amounts of time preparing their students for their states’ reading, math and writing tests.

To get ourselves out of this mess, let’s look at THE question: What should be the goals of America’s education system? Surely the answer is not: America must be able to compete in a global economy. If parents and educators were to brainstorm answers to this question, we would hear goals such as:

Students should

  • graduate prepared to be responsible citizens in a democratic society
  • be able to read critically and think critically – and think for themselves
  • leave school with a life-time love of learning
  • be creative problem-solvers
  • learn how to ask questions, because questions can be more important than the answers
  • develop their unique gifts and talents and be prepared to fulfill their potential
  • And so much more

William Butler Yeats once famously noted thatEducation is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” But for the last decade under No Child Left Behind the mandate has been clear: fill that pail. And if our political leaders want our country to continue to compete on a global scale, then their wishes will most assuredly be fulfilled when we put into place such goals as those in that little brainstorming session above.

So what about curriculum? Once we have our goals what should the curriculum be? Curriculum decisions must be tied to research-based best practices. One of the reasons that NCLB has had so many negative consequences is that its mandates are not based on proven research.

Whether or not our country will one day have a national curriculum is unknown. By law, Congress is forbidden to mandate a national curriculum. In the meantime, under the aegis of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, about 40 states have voluntarily* signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). It is a work in progress. We are not taking a stand against CCSSI. Given the problems with centrally-endorsed/mandated educational initiatives, we remain skeptical– but at present we are taking a wait and see approach.

The question for you is this: are you satisfied with the input your state gave educators and parents when it signed on to CCSSI? Reform fails when it does not obtain broad general consensus from its stakeholders. It is inevitable that the Common Core Standards will be revisited and revised over the next decade or so. The initiative’s success and continued acceptance will be determined by the assessments that are written to go along with the standards. As of this date, the assessments are a work in progress.

In the meantime, today’s curriculum, which is the result of the unintended consequences of NCLB, has diverted America’s schools from their mission of providing children with a good and meaningful education. In a country as diverse as our fifty states are it stands to reason that local communities can best decide the curriculum that their own students need.

*Many states signed on to the initiative because they wanted to be eligible for Race to the Top funding.

For more resources and information about this issue, we recommend: