Sunday, March 20, 2011

Call for Common Content and a Core Curriculum

An array of education leaders are now arguing that the best path forward for American education lies through developing a strong shared curriculum with an explicit grade sequence for core disciplines. They want to build on the Common Core approach to literacy and math standards with a clear, specific plan for what students will learn in each year of school in other major subjects

The drafters of "A Call for Common Content: Core Curriculum Must Build a Bridge from
Standards to Achievement" expect significant learning benefits from a systematic approach shared by multiple states:
Thanks to advances in cognitive science, we now understand that reading comprehension — so essential to almost all academic learning — depends in large part on knowledge.  In experiments, when students who are "poor" readers are asked to read about a topic they know well (such as baseball), they do much better on comprehension measures than "good" readers who know less about the subject.
The systematic effort to establish common, knowledge-building content must therefore begin as early as possible. The younger we start, the greater the hope that we can boost achievement across all schools and classrooms, but especially among our most disadvantaged students. Further, by articulating learning progressions linked to a grade-by-grade sequence for how learning should build over time, a defined curriculum will better enable each teacher to build on what students have already been taught. Students will also benefit, as they will be much less likely to find themselves either struggling to overcome gaps in their knowledge or bored by the repetition of what they have already learned.
They also argue that stronger curriculum will allow stronger assessments, so that each year's teaching and testing can work together:
Countries that already enjoy the benefits of a knowledge-rich curriculum are able to design course-related assessments — tying classroom and system-wide evaluations to what students are actually being taught. Rather than waste time prepping for what might be on the test, students and teachers can be confident that mastering the course content will prepare them for what they will be asked to demonstrate and do.
Original signatories to the statement include Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and scholars like Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Schmidt, and Uri Triesman.  I also note Milton Goldberg, my boss when I worked for the U.S. Department of Education, and Checker Finn, Milt's boss in those same years.   Additional signatories are welcome to sign on here.  Overall, the early names suggest that a serious campaign is underway!

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!