Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pursuing Common, Rigorous Curricular Standards: a perpetual cycle in American public schooling

Researchers Urge E.D. Effort to Define “Common Core.” Bennett’s Advisory Group Reviews Research Agenda at First Session -- T. Mirga, Education Week, April 24, 1985, p.9

In April of 1985 a panel of nine prominent educators advised the National Institute of Education to devote a greater percentage of its dollars to “define” a common core of knowledge for American students. Members of the panel expressed displeasure with what they said was an overemphasis on research on the cognitive development of students. More emphasis, they said, should be placed on subject matter.

Michael W. Kirst of Stanford said that the focus should not be on process orientation, but rather “on what needs to be taught in these institutions.” His proposal presumes, it appears, that curricular interventions directly affect learning outcomes, bypassing, somehow teaching and other presentation difficulties.

Joseph Adelson of the University of Michigan concurred with Mr. Kirst, adding that he was “amazed at how little students know.” Perhaps he expected that if NIE research emphasized “defining” a common core, his own future encounters would be with more knowledgeable students.

Chester Finn -- at that time of Vanderbilt University -- among others, questioned the need for a proposed Center for the Study of Writing. “The thought that this is major terra incognita strikes me as blarney,” said Mr. Finn. “People know how to teach writing; they just don’t do it.”

It is somewhat amazing that in the world of 1985, where it was a commonplace that academics were barely competent teachers, such hidden riches, a plethora of writing and teaching talent, lay ignored or unexploited! On Mr. Finn’s account, the academic -- who averaged (and still averages) four published articles in his/her lifetime -- is merely withholding his/her gifts from students. Perhaps, secondary and elementary teachers, who suffer no pressure to publish, are endowed with a proportionally even greater ability to write and to teach writing!

Imagine a seed salesman who occasionally visited a grocery store and recommended to the grocer changes in the kinds and amounts of seeds farmers should be offered on the basis of the produce the salesman "saw missing"in the store. It's very much like how these curriculum interventionists, Kirst, Edelson, Finn, Bennett and the others at that meeting, relate to the actual classroom learning of elementary and secondary students.

Rigor, in curriculum, is an aesthetic criterion, a matter of taste. It is seldom a causal criterion, touching on effectiveness. Physicists, for example will do all sorts of things with mathematics that mathematicians find “unrigorous.” Who benefits, we should ask, when the call for rigor is heeded? The curriculum interventionist is not unlike the proverbial man with a hammer who tries to fix everything by hitting it, until it is formed (or deformed?) to suit his preferences.

For references and links to cited articles and to examine these issues further, see ON THE VIABILITY OF A CURRICULUM LEADERSHIP ROLE 
Avoiding Confusion of Role and Function

--- EGR