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Shanker Institute Counters Efforts To Undermine Common Core State Standards; Repeats Call For Matching Curricula

The “Closing the Door on Innovation” manifesto issued today by a group of conservatives distorts the purpose of the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute-sponsored Call for Common Content statement released in March. The statement was signed by a diverse group of education and other leaders from across the political spectrum - and emphasized that teachers must have access to voluntary curriculum guidelines in order to teach effectively to the new state-led common core standards. Aligning the new standards to high quality curriculum is critical to ensuring that all children in the U.S. receive a rigorous education.

“While we agree that curriculum should be designed before assessments, their claim that the ‘Call for Common Content’ is about creation of a ‘national curriculum’ and ‘national standards’ is just plain wrong," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the signatories to the Shanker Institute statement.

“What we argued then, and what the AFT’s own committee on implementation of common core standards will reinforce in its upcoming recommendations, was that educators need and want a set of curricular roadmaps that are aligned to common standards and developed from various high-quality, content rich, multiple curriculum resources, with strong input from teachers themselves and other curriculum experts."

“And," Weingarten said, “Without these resources, especially in a time of tight education budgets, it will be up to teachers to make up all of this content aligned to standards as they go along, under the guise of local autonomy. That is a recipe for failure and unfair to both students and teachers."

“A lot of my friends may need remedial reading - hopefully, with a solid curriculum - themselves because the ‘national curriculum’ bogeyman they decry isn’t even close to what the Shanker Institute has proposed nor what I would support," added Checker Finn, another signatory and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Supplying teachers - and schools, districts, states - with high quality voluntary materials with which to organize and deliver a standards-aligned program of instruction to their pupils would be a huge gain for American education, and is needed now more than ever as the standards themselves become more rigorous."

“Let us be completely clear that the signatories to our statement - who include education and business leaders, researchers and policymakers, Republicans and Democrats, and many others - are not advocating the creation of top-down scripted content for teachers and schools to follow lock-step," noted Eugenia Kemble, Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute. “The whole purpose is to ensure that all students wherever they go to school will be provided with high-quality, rigorous instruction that imparts vital content knowledge in all areas of learning and the reading and critical thinking skills they need to have an equal opportunity for success."

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I suspect that any curriculum "guide" that is attached to two major national tests and which will (likely) have high stakes consequences will inevitably become a de facto national curriculum. Given the competing demands of standardization for accountability, and cost of the tests, it will likely morph into a dumbed down curriculum.

If we want to get serious, instead of hiding under rocks, think about a national, competency-based secondary school leaving exam, leaving it up to states and localities to create the multiple paths (curricular and experiential) that will enable students to clear those thresholds of competence, let alone how many dicretely-phased student learning outcomes must be met to qualify for a diploma. Look at the Degree Qualifications Profile put out in January for higher ed to begin a long-overdue move toward competencies, and you'll get the idea (minus examinations). There is nothing "standardized" about this.

Public education in the USA has been based on multiple local and state-centered curricula throughout its history. It is widely agreed the results have short-changed millions of students due to the divergent standards. Publishers follow the strictures set by high-population conservative states such as Texas and distort the treatment of history, economics and science in textbooks. Given the disparity in the results of student achievement over state lines, the need for basic minimum standards of content and rigor seems obvious. The "Closing the Door on Innovation" manifesto simply continues the present failed state of affairs and closes the door on the innovation that has been missing for the past century and a half of public education in the USA,


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