(Updated at 2:35 p.m. with reaction to the manifesto)
Today 100 conservative education, business and political leaders issued a strong rebuke to a recent call for a national curriculum and national tests.
The manifesto counters the Albert Shanker Institute campaign for a common curriculum and criticizes the federal embrace of common assessments and the funding of two state partnerships to develop them. (Georgia is among the states involved in developing assessments for the Common Core State Standards.)
A local signatory is Kelly McCutchen of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
I know I risk the wrath of many, but as a parent I have no problem with a national curriculum and national tests.
I still believe testing has a role in education and agree with the answer I once heard education historian and writer Diane Ravitch give at a Hechinger Institute seminar when asked what she thought about testing: “Depends on the test.”
The manifesto garnered quick response from signers of the Shanker statement. “While we agree that curriculum should be designed before assessments, their claim that the ‘Call for Common Content’ is about creation of a ‘national curriculum’ and ‘national standards’ is just plain wrong,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers , one of the signatories.
“What we argued then, and what the AFT’s own committee on implementation of common core standards will reinforce in its upcoming recommendations, was that educators need and want a set of curricular roadmaps that are aligned to common standards and developed from various high-quality, content rich, multiple curriculum resources, with strong input from teachers themselves and other curriculum experts,” she said.
“Without these resources, especially in a time of tight education budgets, it will be up to teachers to make up all of this content aligned to standards as they go along, under the guise of local autonomy. That is a recipe for failure and unfair to both students and teachers,” Weingarten said.
“A lot of my friends may need remedial reading—hopefully, with a solid curriculum—themselves because the ‘national curriculum’ bogeyman they decry isn’t even close to what the Shanker Institute has proposed nor what I would support,” said Checker Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Supplying teachers — and schools, districts, states — with high quality voluntary materials with which to organize and deliver a standards-aligned program of instruction to their pupils would be a huge gain for American education, and is needed now more than ever as the standards themselves become more rigorous.”
Here is part of the manifesto:
We, the undersigned, representing viewpoints from across the political and educational spectrum, oppose the call for a nationalized curriculum in the Albert Shanker Institute Manifesto “A Call for Common Content.” We also oppose the ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Education to have two federally funded testing consortia develop national curriculum guidelines, national curriculum models, national instructional materials, and national assessments using Common Core’s national standards as a basis for these efforts.
We agree that our expectations should be high and similar for all children whether they live in Mississippi or Massachusetts, Tennessee or Texas. We also think that curricula should be designed before assessments are developed, not the other way around.
But we do not agree that a one-size-fits-all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject makes sense for this country or for any other sizable country. Such an approach threatens to close the door on educational innovation, freezing in place an unacceptable status quo and hindering efforts to develop academically rigorous curricula, assessments, and standards that meet the challenges that lie ahead. Because we are deeply committed to improving this country’s schools and increasing all students’ academic achievement, we cannot support this effort to undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level—the historic locus for effective innovation and reform in education—and transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy.
Moreover, transferring power to Washington, D.C., will only further subordinate educational decisions to political imperatives. All presidential administrations—present and future, Democratic and Republican—are subject to political pressure. Centralized control in the U.S. Department of Education would upset the system of checks and balances between different levels of government, creating greater opportunities for special interests to use their national political leverage to distort policy. Our decentralized fifty-state system provides some limitations on special-interest power, ensuring that other voices can be heard, that wrongheaded reforms don’t harm children in every state, and that reforms that effectively serve children’s needs can find space to grow and succeed.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog