Common curriculum and equity

7:16 am

These are the remarks delivered by Chief Joseph parent Peter Campbell to the PPS Board of Education Monday, May 14, 2008. –ed.

The mantra behind the common curriculum adoption has been equity. A legitimate case was presented that schools have inequitable curricular offerings, i.e., “good”/rich schools have better curricular offerings than “bad”/poor schools. The solution? Mandate that every school offer the same books and materials to all students.

While that may seem like a practical solution, it fails to recognize how this solution actually gets implemented. Here are the key sticking points:

  1. A common materials adoption does not address the inequity that lies beneath the surface. Low-income kids wake up poor, go to school poor, and go home poor.
  2. Just because you tell teachers to use these materials does not mean they are going to use them. For example, there’s widespread evidence that the recent elementary literacy adoption — Scott Foresman’s “Reading Street” — is not being implemented in a uniform fashion. Some teachers are using some of it, some are using all of it, and some are using none of it.
  3. The fact that teachers choose not to use common materials is no blemish on teachers. Far from it. Most teachers are highly-trained professionals who exercise their professional judgement in selecting materials that match the needs and interests of the children they are paid to serve. In some cases, the common materials address these needs. But in others, they do not.
  4. Too often, a common materials adoption requires that teachers learn how to implement a program. For example, elementary teachers over this past school year have spent an inordinate amount of time learning how to teach Scott Foresman, not teach reading.

So instead of wasting tax-payer money on a feel-good solution that does nothing to address the underlying inequity, a solution that good teachers know when to use and when to reject and that often forces teachers to waste time learning how to implement a costly and ineffective program, I urge you instead to spend our precious resources on site-based professional development. As countless studies have shown, one of the best ways to address the inequities in curricular offerings is to make sure that teachers are getting the kind of ongoing support and training they need. So there’s uniformity in a commitment to high-quality training and support across the district. But leave it to the teachers and the building principals to figure out how to implement the goals of this professional development. In so doing, you’ll be targeting dollars where you get more bang for the buck instead of wasting money on expensive, canned, one-size-fits all materials that gather dust on the shelves.

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Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

filed under: Curriculum, Equity

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One Response

  1. Comment from Alicia Lewis:

    Peter, thank you for your powerful comments. I stumbled on this blog while researching for a paper in an Ed. Leadership program which (thankfully) ends soon.

    I want to be straightforward in saying I work for an educational consulting firm here in Portland which specializes in internet-based tools for curricular transparency and clarity.

    What you assert mirrors my experiences with other large (urban) districts – a need for districts to allow teachers and teacher leaders to collaborate in defining ESSENTIAL content, skills, and assessments rather than prescribing text book series. My past year with this team has enforced a long-standing belief that meaningful and differentiated professional development is key to ensuring that all students have access to an instructor who can address their academic strengths and needs.

    I look forward to becoming better acquainted with my new home (SW Portland) to resume those activities which made me feel as thought I was impacting the future through education and educational advocacy.

    Don’t give up the ship! See you on board soon.