Standards Drive Curriculum

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

I had an interesting conversation with a school superintendent in Northwest Iowa this week. He was adamant about his school district’s control over curriculum. It’s true in Iowa and most (if not all) states that state departments of education do not dictate curriculum and textbook decisions.

He noted that they barely buy textbooks anymore because they write their curriculum and their teachers use multiple resources because he said no one textbook can provide everything they want to teach.

I’m not chained to the notion of using textbooks, and having taught I can certainly agree that finding the best resources for the particular topic being taught is beneficial. That forces teachers and schools to be all that much more transparent about what is being used to teach students so parents can be informed.

That’s a challenge, however. I asked how they inform parents what is being taught if they can’t peruse a textbook. He said “should” (he didn’t say that it is) be on the teacher’s website and if it isn’t – “that’s on us.”

I’m not sure saying oops, my bad cuts it, but ok. Parents need to be proactive to find out what teachers are teaching.

The superintendent then said something fascinating to me, “buying textbooks would force us to adopt California or Texas values.”

I’m not so certain post-Common Core how much Texas drives curriculum, but I do know a block of, initially, 46 states adopting Common Core did.

He had a problem with California and Texas pushing textbooks but didn’t have a problem with Bill Gates, National Governors’ Association, and Council of Chief State School Officers driving top-down standards. We didn’t discuss the Next Generation Science Standards or C3 Framework for State Social Studies Standards, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to assume he’s in favor of those as well.

He told me it’s good to make sure everyone is learning the same thing. This argument assumes there wasn’t some commonality before, and second, he acknowledged that demographics impact what happens in schools. Third, if everyone is learning the same thing doesn’t that weaken his claim about his teachers’ designing their curriculum?

Standards drive curriculum, especially if they are aligned to assessments, even if you develop your own. So certainly there is variation, there will always be variation because there isn’t one national test and each school uses a different curriculum. You do see themes crop up, however – like using reform math, as well as, an emphasis on informational text. Also, teachers and schools have to show how their lesson plans are connecting with standards because the state is requiring that they implement them. Several specialĀ education teachers have expressed frustration with how they had to show how IEPs they write back into the Iowa Core. Then his school implemented standards-based grading, a shift that certainly wouldn’t have taken place without the standards and accountability push.

But yeah, tell me how much control you have over your curriculum. True freedom would be able to control your own standards and assessments.