Curricular focus vs. curricular chaos.

“If you care about schools, the curricular chaos within them has to arrest your attention. Remember the premise: the uglier the problem, the bigger the payoff in solving the problem. There’s one huge payoff here.

I want to be as emphatic as possible: the impact of the actual, taught curriculum on school quality, on student learning, is indescribably important. Robert Marzano did a meta-analysis of in-school factors that affect student achievement. Coming in at the top—first place—is what gets taught, what he calls a guaranteed and viable curriculum. That is, if teachers can lay out a sound—a viable—set of standards, and can guarantee (more or less) that the standards are actually getting taught, we can raise levels of achievement immensely.”—Mike Schmoker in Results Now.

At Oostburg High School, our guaranteed and viable curriculum is grounded in the Common Core State Standards. As our teachers have become familiar with the learning priorities of these standards, our faculty has increasingly come to believe these standards represent some of the best work we have seen in standards development. Simply put, they are standards that will stretch our students in ways that are very positive. We have come to this conclusion not only because the standards are built on the best research around college and career readiness skills, but also because of simple common sense as educators. These standards make reading well, writing well, and thinking processes the clear learning priorities. These standards are focused on what students can do, not just what students know, so our curriculum needs to become increasingly focused on application of learning as the ultimate learning goal.

In the past, to a very large degree, what was taught in each classroom was largely left up to each teacher’s judgment of what the students needed to learn. In many schools, teachers within the same department may not have known what their peers were teaching. The Common Core State Standards have given us a clear and rigorous framework to coordinate our efforts as a K-12 faculty. We now know what the teacher previous to us is expected to teach, and we are counting on that person to deliver on their part of the guaranteed and viable curriculum, so that we can pick up at that point and meet our responsibilities for student learning.

We feel we are tackling the problem exposed in the quote above, and we also believe we are beginning to see the considerable payoff in student learning that is the result of solving this problem. These are exciting times in education.

Scott Greupink