How to Get from Here to There – – Curriculum

by theschoolprincipal on April 3, 2011

[This post was written in 2011. I have updated it in spots in order to include what’s going on in 2016. It goes without saying the we want students to be able to get a job or be prepared to further their education. But what else?]

One question, THE question, which has yet to be asked by Congress, is this: What are the goals of education in America? In other words, what should  our kindergartners be able to do by the end of high school? That question should have been asked before Congress reauthorized ESEA (Elementary and Secondary School Act, passed by Congress in 1965) as No Child Left Behind in 2001. Until Congress asks that question  —  and answers it – NCLB should not be reauthorized. President Bush and Congress did not ask THE question in 2001, and that is why NCLB has turned out to be such extremely poor legislation.

The goals are determined first, then standards are written, and finally curriculum is the road map we use to get our students to accomplish the goals. What should they know and be able to do by the time they graduate? 

How about the latest reauthorization of NCLB — ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and your state’s newly created standards?  [The drafts of Arizona’s Math and  English Language Arts (ELA) standards have been posted for public review.] COMMENT: I did not read it–but I did scroll and skim through ESSA – see link above — and could not find a section devoted to THE question — the goals of education in America. Uh oh. Congress was the appropriate place to hold a national conversation about the goals of American education. But maybe the AZ Ed Dept. held that conversation and created goals, which would guide them as the committee members worked on the Standards? Nope. Not there. Double uh oh. 

Here is the AZ Dept. of Ed’s definition of standards: 

Standards – What a student needs to know, understand, and be able to do by the end of each grade/course. Standards build across grade levels in a progression of increasing understanding and through a range of cognitive demand levels.

THE question, or what are the goals of American or Arizona education, would be “What does a student needs to know, understand and be able to do when he/she graduates?

Because Congress failed to ask and get answers to THE question when it reauthorized ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) in 2001, one unintended consequence of NCLB has been a narrowing of curriculum throughout the country. Because of NCLB, according to Diane Ravitch, we actually now have a national curriculum, although the Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing one. Our national curriculum? Improve last year’s standardized test results in reading, math, and writing. A bit snarky, but as usual, Diane is right again!

Because geography, history, current events, the arts, science, technology, and physical education are not included in the standardized tests required by NCLB, teachers in every subject area are directed to spend unusual amounts of time preparing their students for their states’ reading, math and writing tests.

To get ourselves out of this mess, let’s look at THE question: What should be the goals of America’s education system? Surely the answer is not what we hear our politicians repeat again and again on TV:  America must be able to compete in a global economy. If parents and educators were to brainstorm answers to this question, we would hear goals more personal and near to home such as:

Students should

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire (William Butler Yeats). But for the last 10 years under No Child Left Behind the mandate has been clear: fill that pail.

If our political leaders want our country to continue to compete on a global scale, which is a narrow goal, then their wishes will most assuredly be fulfilled when we put into place such goals as those in that little brainstorming session above.

So what about curriculum? Once we have our goals what should the standards be? What should curriculum be?  Decisions regarding both standards and curriculum must be tied to research-based best practices. One of the reasons that NCLB has had so many negative consequences is that its mandates are not based on proven research.

Whether or not our country will one day have a national curriculum is unknown. By law (the Constitution) Congress is forbidden to mandate a national curriculum. In the meantime, under the aegis of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers  over 40 states have voluntarily signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). It is a work in progress. The question for you is this: did your state provide opportunities for input from  educators and parents when it signed on to CCSSI? Reform fails when it does not obtain broad general consensus from its stakeholders. It is inevitable that the Common Core Standards will be revisited and revised over the next decade or so — even renamed. The initiative’s success  and continued acceptance will be largely determined by the assessments that are written to go along with the standards. As of this date, [2011] the assessments are a work in progress.

In the meantime, today’s curriculum, which is the result of the unintended consequences of NCLB, has diverted America’s schools from their mission of providing children with a good and meaningful education. If we consider the six or more possible goals suggested above, NCLB has not only not accomplished those goals, NCLB has had the opposite effect. In a country as diverse as our fifty states it stands to reason that local communities can best decide the curriculum that their own students need. If local communities or individual states (with the approval of their citizens) choose CCSSI, so be it. But the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB has had a negative impact on the curriculum of every public school in our country. The consequences of NCLB on curriculum? NCLB has failed us. Dreadfully.

Update to 2016: What do you think the goals for our students should be? Will ESSA, the latest reiteration of No Child Left Behind, accomplish these goals?  What about Arizona’s ELA and math standards? Share your opinion. GOOD NEWS! At least the American public is having this much needed conversation:


1 D. Roane
April 5, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Your goals are admirable, and beggining with the end in mind is an approach that makes sense.

2 theschoolprincipal
April 6, 2011 at 3:18 am

Thanks for your comment!

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