For at least three decades, Americans have been earnestly striving to improve public schools. Yet for all our efforts we have fallen behind other nations—such as Finland, Japan, Singapore and South Korea—when it comes to student achievement. Reasons abound, but among the most important is that they have written common core curricula, but we have not.
In the winter 2010-11 issue of American Educator, education researchers including Marilyn Jager Adams, William H. Schmidt, Linda Darling-Hammond, E. D. Hirsch Jr. and David K. Cohen, among others, explain why a common core curriculum—one that is shared by all schools, but takes no more than two-thirds of instructional time—allows teachers, administrators, parents, textbook writers, assessment developers, professors of education and policymakers to work in concert. The authors also address a significant benefit of a common core curriculum that should be a hallmark of the United States, but sadly, is not: educational equity.
Adams explains how the simplified language of many textbooks has resulted in the decline of students' vocabulary and knowledge, and thus their reading comprehension. Schmidt and his colleagues reveal that the United States is far from equitable when it comes to the mathematics students have the opportunity to learn. Darling-Hammond takes a look at how high-performing countries have created coherent education systems in which all students have equally well-resourced schools, learn the same core content and benefit from uniformly well-prepared teachers. Hirsch emphasizes the plight of children who change schools frequently as a primary reason why we need to adopt a common core curriculum that builds knowledge grade by grade. And Cohen discusses the difficulty of training and assessing teachers without any agreement as to what they should be teaching.
Rounding out the winter issue is an essay by Diana Senechal on how a strong curriculum provides teachers with structure while preserving space for creativity and professional judgment, and an article by Laura Hamilton that shows how a common core curriculum could help us build an assessment system that promotes student learning. The new Educator also shows what a common core curriculum that specifies what to teach, but not how to teach, could look like. [Lisa Hansel]
December 16, 2010