Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The fierce urgency of eventually

Robert Pondiscio argues that reformers should focus more on reforming the curriculum:

After the Manhattan Institute event, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Rhee about my reform game—curriculum, teaching, and learning. I wondered out loud whether it made sense to reach conclusions about the effectiveness of individual teachers who are poorly trained and have no say over their curriculum or, more often than not, no curriculum at all. I urged her to keep curriculum in mind.

"The last thing we're going to do," she replied with a chuckle, "is get wrapped up in curriculum battles."

A stunning reply if you think about it. This poster child for bare-knuckle reform, who moments earlier was urging her listeners to "embrace conflict," has no stomach for a debate about what kids should learn in school. Is it so difficult or controversial to say that all kindergarteners must learn shapes, colors, and how to count to twenty? Confronting the teachers unions on pay and tenure is worth a fight, yet it is too heavy a lift to say what 3rd graders should know about American history, geography, or science—or whether they need to know anything at all.

Michelle Rhee isn't the only one too sheepish to talk curriculum. She is simply the most vocal and visible representative of a theory of change that sees structures, and increasingly political power, as the coin of the realm. I have no illusions: "Teacher effectiveness" and charter schools and merit pay may be sexy, but curriculum is not. It doesn't get you on Oprah or the cover of Newsweek. We are unlikely, now or ever, to see a bold initiative to raise $1 billion to advocate for a coherent, knowledge-rich curriculum for every child in the early grades, even though—for high-mobility, low-income children in particular—it would surely be among the most impactful reforms we could offer.

What I cannot accept, however, is that to focus on instruction—on curriculum and teaching—is to play the "wrong game."


Opinion: The fierce urgency of eventually
By Robert Pondiscio

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