Education Week - May 22, 2013 - (Page 32)

S KEY. OTE) ▲ ed 32 n n n n EDUCATION WEEK n MAY 22, 2013 n COMMENTARY THE ‘HOW’ OF EQUITABLE SCHOOL FUNDING 24 DESIGNING LEARNING SPACES FOR A NEW AGE OF DISCOVERY 24 TEACHING THE METRIC SYSTEM: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR THE COMMON CORE 25 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 26 The Common Core Needs A Common Curriculum T By Lisa Hansel he Common Core State Standards contain laudable goals for what students ought to be able to do. Attaining those goals, especially in English/language arts and literacy, depends on how schools interpret the standards’ call for a content-rich curriculum: “[W]hile the standards make references to some particular forms of content, ... they do not ... enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum.” What is a content-rich curriculum? And who should pick the content? I argue that we should all come to agreement on the content. But first, we must understand the cognitive science that explains why content is important. Instead of writing a contentrich curriculum, some schools have selected a scripted program. Some new teachers have said their schools’ scripted reading programs saved them because they were not prepared to teach children with widely varying backgrounds. But once teachers build expertise, they meet individual students’ needs better than any script. Perhaps scripted programs should be optional, not mandated. At the other extreme, some schools have a sink-or-swim approach in which each teacher writes his or her own curriculum. This drives too many new teachers out of the profession, creating a level of turnover that is harmful to students. Some teachers swim, but their ability to learn from their peers is minimal when everyone is teaching very different things. Many educators seem to agree that the middle ground between a script and a free-for-all makes sense, so the sticking point is defining that middle ground. This is where my perspective differs from mainstream educational thought. Many school districts mandate specific pedagogies, but not specific content. I think this is backwards. Effective instruction depends on the content to be learned and the students in the room, so pedagogical mandates are often counterproductive. What to teach ought to be a communal, researchbased, and experience-based decision; how to teach should be up to the individual teacher. The content of instruction is so important that any responsible community should be willing to do the hard work of specifying and agreeing to what students need to know and be able to do by the end of each grade. Research demonstrates that knowledge and skills develop together. The most crucial skills— comprehension, critical thinking, and writing—all depend on having relevant knowledge not at one’s fingertips, but already stored in one’s long-term memory. The cog- “ What to teach ought to be a communal, researchbased, and experiencebased decision.” nitive science is clear: Any topic students need to read or think about is a topic they must know about. Exactly what are those topics? Research can partially answer that question. Skim a few newspaper articles. For brevity’s sake, the articles explain what’s new, but offer little background knowledge. The sports section gives game highlights and scores; it does not explain the rules. The economy section tells you where the Dow closed and offers the latest jobs and housing data; it reveals little about what those are or why they matter. The news tells you what’s new—it expects you to know enough to digest it. As a foundation for lifelong learning, the knowledge all stu- Chris Whetzel dents need is the knowledge that adults are assumed to have. One way research can help determine what to teach is by showing what knowledge is taken for granted in publications intended for broad audiences. Here’s a recent example from The New York Times: “Samuel Ting, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Nobel laureate particle physicist, said Wednesday that his $1.6 billion cosmic ray experiment on the International Space Station had found evidence of ‘new physical phenomena’ that could represent dark matter, the mysterious stuff that serves as the gravitational foundation for galaxies and whose identification would rewrite some of the laws of physics.” What knowledge is assumed and what is not? We are not expected to know who Ting is or what dark matter is. But we are expected to know mit, the Nobel Prize, particle physics, cosmic rays, the International Space Station, gravity, and galaxies. That’s a lot to know. Researching what knowledge is commonly taken for granted is the approach E.D. Hirsch Jr., the founder of Core Knowledge, and his colleagues took when they initially developed a list of what all Americans should know. Many critics pointed out—rightly—that the list was too narrow. By focusing on knowledge assumed by mainstream outlets, it did not adequately reinforce fundamental American values: finding strength in diversity and appreciating all Americans (not just those who become famous). Many of those critics do not realize that Hirsch agreed with them. That initial list has been revised with input from hundreds of teachers and scholars; today’s Core Knowledge Sequence contains a great diversity of people, events, and ideas. When schools adopt the sequence, they go through their own communal process: The sequence PAGE 27 > LISA HANSEL is the communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation, which is located in Charlottesville, Va. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 22, 2013

Education Week - May 22, 2013
District Bets Big on Standards
FOCUS ON: EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: States Stepping Up Mandates for School Safety Drills
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Schools Facing the Expiration of Windows XP
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Debates Roil Over Control of Schools in Baton Rouge
Study: Teenagers’ Brains Are Wired for Peer Approval
Analysis Calls for Dual-Language Pre-K for Young ELLs
PROFILE: Brian Pick
PROFILE: Dowan Mcnair-Lee
PROFILE: Mikel Robinson
States Tighten Disclosure of Teacher Evaluations
Blogs of the Week
NRC Framework Seen as Valued Resource for Educators
A Spec. Ed. Twist on Common-Core Testing
K-12 Colors Campaigns in Virginia, New Jersey
Policy Brief
CYNTHIA G. BROWN: The ‘How’ of Equitable School Funding
JIM CHILDRESS: Designing Learning Spaces for A New Age of Discovery
JEANNE ZAINO: Teaching the Metric System: A Cautionary Tale for the Common Core
Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
LISA HANSEL: The Common Core Needs a Common Curriculum

Education Week - May 22, 2013