Mike Muir makes a critically important point in his post from Thursday, “Of Course Computers Don’t Improve Achievement!” When we talk about the impact of any educational reform or change, the question of impact is always filtered through lenses of expectations (from a wide variety of stakeholders) as well as the curriculum. In one of my curriculum theory classes in graduate school we used a text by Allan Glatthorn, who distinguishes between the formal currriculum, the taught curriculum, the tested curriculum, etc. I think a strong case can be made that for questions of educational reform, it’s all about curriculum. What is the curriculum that is actually taught and learned in schools? Does it permit any new reforms or ideas, including laptops, to change the direction and content of daily activities in classrooms? Here is part of what Mike wrote:

…teachers alone don’t carry the weight of the success of laptops. They haven’t grown up with technology. Understandably, many teachers don’t know how to use more than routine uses, let alone how to teach with them. But even when teachers are expert at teaching with technology, they don’t have the positional authority to set direction for the school, nor the expertise to keep equipment running or to do networking. Yet these are all factors that will impact if student achievement is impacted by the introduction of laptops into learning environments.

Teachers play a vital role, and I do believe that teachers make the biggest difference. However, as David Warlick observes in “Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher’s Guide to Digital Literacy,” TIME is one of the biggest obstacles to technology integration– as well as any type of CHANGE or REFORM movement in schools.

What teacher has time for ANYTHING extra? In many if not most Texas public schools today, teachers and administrators have a strong perception that no one has TIME for project-based learning– certainly not before mid-April when the yearly summative assessment tests are administered to students.

This is primarily an issue of curriculum. We have brought much of this on ourselves, as educators, through the standards movement. We (together with legislators and many others) have loaded down teachers at all levels with a dizzying array of educational standards, and we have falsely placed our faith in those standards as well as standardized assessments which accompany them to broadly improve the quality of public education. In an information age already overflowing with data and sources, we continue to stack the plate of expectations for teachers and students ever higher. Who has time to think in classrooms today? I think many are too busy.

We need to slow down. We need to study in depth. We need to broadly encourage teachers to use project-based learning and problem-based learning strategies REGULARLY with students. Note I am NOT saying we need to “dumb down” the curriculum. NCLB has already done that, and that’s the wrong way to go. I am an advocate for teaching and learning about complexity in the classroom as well as messy assessment. Some schools using the Core Knowledge curriculum are doing this. I think we need more charter schools who are given the freedom to innovate and try new things, including less time-pressured, content-shallow approaches to education.

It seems to me it’s all about curriculum. Of course I am finishing up a terminal degree in curriculum and instruction, so my perspective is admittedly biased. But I think this is part of what Mike is saying in his post, and more people need to recognize it. Teachers don’t set the formal or tested curriculum in schools today. Legislators do.

That needs to change.

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2 Responses to It’s all about curriculum

  1. Brian Crosby says:

    Wesley – nice post as usual – my post on this subject was “too sarcastic” according to my wife. http://learningismessy.com/blog/?p=47
    My one positive on this is that I work at a school that has been under as intense NCLB curriculum narrowing pressure as just about anyone – there is a chink appearing in the armor plate – we are actually talking about going more in a project based direction – teachers note thay they have few if any skills in teaching that way however, so it will be an interesting journey.

  2. […] Testing and standards alone can’t improve education– we need to address the problems with rigid and traditional curriculum and empower teachers to teach with passion and creativity. […]

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