Students need a great curriculum, delivered within an environment that eliminates barriers to success. There’s no way that our students can become the thinkers, innovators and leaders of tomorrow if they have been taught only the subjects tested. All students need rich, well-rounded curricula that ground them in areas ranging from foreign languages to physical education, civics to the sciences, history to health, as well as literature, mathematics and the arts. Curricula do not work in isolation and must be a part of the entire system—from instruction to professional development to assessment. Curricula must be aligned with the academic standards and standards-based assessments that students are expected to master, including the Common Core standards for reading and math. And teachers must have access to high-quality, ongoing professional development to help them use the curricula to differentiate their instruction to ensure all students succeed. Right now, such curricula aren’t routinely in place, and a lot of teachers are forced to make it up every single day.
A curriculum does what academic content standards can’t do. It provides teachers with a detailed road map for helping students reach the standards. It is the how-to guide for teachers. It conveys the “what” of the standards, and it clarifies how much of the “what” is good enough. The curriculum provides information to teachers about the content, instructional strategies and complexity of student performance levels necessary to meet standards. Curriculum must be comprehensive without being restrictive; it must provide examples and allow for flexibility; and, it must establish the broad parameters within which teachers apply their professional knowledge and judgment. The AFT believes that it is necessary to develop a shared understanding of what a curriculum must contain in a standards-based system. We do not condone the use of an intractable, scripted curriculum that provides no flexibility for teachers. We also do not believe that teachers should have to go it alone. A curriculum should provide enough examples to allow a teacher, in collaboration with other teachers, to develop a common understanding of the standards. Elements of a high-quality curriculum include:
- learning continuums that show the progression and development from grade to grade and within each grade;
- instructional resources—reading materials, textbooks, software and so forth—that are aligned to the standards;
- information on instructional strategies or techniques to help teach the standards in a variety of ways;
- performance indicators to clarify the quality of student work needed for mastery of the standards, including performance indicators, rubrics or scoring guides, sample student work and quality feedback; and
- a clearinghouse of high-quality lesson plans and units based on the standards and developed by teachers.