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by Allan A. Glatthorn, Judy F. Carr and Douglas E. Harris
Table of Contents
Everywhere today, curriculum planners are being asked to determine how to implement state standards and other issues when addressing their curricula. But how to go about that? The intent of this revised introductory chapter is to provide an overview of curriculum, so that the subject-specific chapters that follow can be viewed from a broader perspective. The chapter begins by providing a knowledge base for the process of developing curricula. The chapter also analyzes curriculum work at the state, school district, school, and classroom levels. An additional section, Putting Standards to Work in Schools, has been included in this revised chapter to outline the ways in which standards can be incorporated into curricula (see pages 39-57).
While curriculum planners have tried for decades to define curriculum—often with very little guidance—two approaches can resolve the debate. The first is to use a simple definition that reflects how most educational leaders use the term: Curriculum is the skills and knowledge that students are to learn. A more complex approach is to analyze the several sources of curriculum; from this perspective there are eight different kinds:
Two other types of curriculum—although not explicit and visible in school curriculum documents, materials, and tests—are also worth noting:
How do these curriculum types interact? The research literature and experience working with education leaders and school systems on curriculum development suggest the following:
Although all these types of curricula are important, curriculum leaders should focus on the learned curriculum, emphasizing the importance of implementing the written curriculum and helping teachers close the gap between the taught and the learned curricula.
What constitutes a high-quality curriculum? In one sense the question cannot be answered empirically, since the question is value-laden. If curriculum leaders believe a narrowly focused curriculum that deals only with the "basics" is most desirable, then they will argue for the merits of such a curriculum. On the other hand, if they believe in a comprehensive curriculum that deals broadly with life-related issues, then they will advocate such an approach. This division cannot always be reconciled by turning to the research. There are, however, some tentative findings suggesting that students learn more in schools that emphasize a curriculum focused more sharply on academic courses (Lee, Croninger, & Smith, 1997).
Putting the value issue aside, here are several research-based guidelines for developing a high-quality curriculum.
Before discussing the structures and processes for renewing the curriculum, it's important to note some significant features of the context for curriculum development. Many developments and trends in K–12 education are altering the landscape for curriculum work. Although history shows that it is often hard to predict which changes will have a substantial impact on schools and which will turn out to be nothing more than fads, it is worthwhile to assess current trends as part of curriculum renewal. Following are some of the major trends that can influence curriculum, based on history and current literature. (As part of your curriculum work, you may want to create your own list of current trends, paying particular attention to trends in your area.)
At the time of this writing, there is considerable debate about national standards. Although almost all national organizations representing the various subject areas have issued voluntary content standards, policy battles over the proper federal role have stalled some of the most ambitious plans for implementing them.
Continuing dissatisfaction with student achievement, especially as reflected in the news media, is likely to result in more discussion of the proper role of national standards. In a well-balanced analysis, Smith, Fuhrman, and O'Day (1994) summarize the pros and cons of national standards. Advocates, they say, assert that standards will
Also, international comparisons indicate that teachers in nations with strong central control of the curriculum reported greater consistency in what should be taught and what they did teach when compared with teachers in nations with greater local control, such as the United States (Cohen & Spillane, 1992). That variation in consistency is probably one of the factors accounting for international differences in achievement.
Still, Smith and colleagues note several disadvantages emphasized by the critics of national standards:
Kendall and Marzano (1997) raise some practical cautions regarding national standards. Their report, a systematic compilation of the national standards that have been developed by various professional organizations, suggests that implementing all of the emerging recommendations would be an impossible task for curriculum leaders. According to their analysis, a student would have to master three "benchmarks" every week to achieve all the standards set by the professional groups. (A benchmark is a school-level or grade-level objective derived from the standards.) Clearly, then, developing curricula informed by national standards will prove much more difficult than simply incorporating the recommendations of subject matter experts.
While the debate rages regarding the desirability of national standards, there appears to be growing consensus on the desirability of state standards. A survey by Pechman and Laguarda (1993) indicated that 45 states had developed or were developing curriculum frameworks; as of this writing, only Iowa lacks curriculum standards in mathematics and English language arts. And those frameworks, unlike the general guidelines that marked past efforts, seem to be detailed (some would say prescriptive) and backed by state-developed tests. Smith and colleagues (1994) report that preliminary results from California suggest that "ambitious content standards reinforced by assessment and other policies have the potential to improve schooling" (p. 21). The evidence on teacher attitudes is somewhat inconclusive. Two studies suggest that most teachers have negative attitudes about externally imposed curriculum standards (Rosenholtz, 1987; McNeil, 1986). On the other hand, another study of teachers in six states discovered little evidence that teachers were unhappy with state and district standard setting (Porter, Smithson, & Osthoff, 1994).
Several experts have noted problems with states setting standards in curriculum. (See especially Fuhrman, 1994.) The standards are set by state officials who are far removed from local schools and free from the burden of accountability. Curriculum standards are often not supported with other systemic changes, such as new approaches to teacher education. Thus state initiatives may be seen as fragmented and often contradictory. And at a time of limited resources and the accompanying downsizing of staffs, most state departments of education do not have the wherewithal to help local districts implement state standards.
This trend has several implications for curriculum workers. First, developers at the state level should recognize the need for comprehensive support of the educators they serve. At the district level, developers should create curricula that address such state standards, while still providing for curriculum development at the school and classroom levels. Finally, school administrators and teachers should find ways to make the district curriculum relevant to the students. (For additional details, see the Putting Standards to Work in Schools section on page 39.)
Constructivism is a theory of learning based on the principle that learners construct meaning from what they experience; thus, learning is an active, meaning-making process. Although constructivism seems to have made its strongest impact on science and mathematics curricula, leaders in other fields are attempting to embody in curriculum units the following principles:
In developing a constructivist unit, curriculum leaders should find two sources useful if greater depth is needed: Glatthorn (1994a) and Brooks and Brooks (1993).
In the face of drastic changes in the economy, the workplace, and the workforce, forward-looking career educators are moving toward new approaches to curriculum. Three developments seem significant:
Complex Reasoning and Information Processing Skills
(Presented as a problem-solving process.)
Attitudes and Dispositions
(Adapted and paraphrased from stasz et al., 1990.)
Except for some critics of technology (for example, Apple, 1988), there is general agreement among educators that schools will continue to increase their use of sophisticated technologies. Schools have become so comfortable with using the computer to manage the curriculum and to facilitate student learning that discussions of whether they should adopt these technologies have given way to questions of how they will use them. In any case, technology should be seen as a way of supporting curriculum objectives rather than as an add-on.
A cold war is being fought over the control of curriculum. State departments of education are becoming much more active in this area, developing detailed standards and related high-stakes tests. At the same time, schools using site-based management are exercising their authority to develop their own curricula. Districts continue to assert their authority over the curriculum, and classroom teachers close the door and teach what they wish to teach.
Because each of these parties has a part to play in the process, curriculum developers should foster cooperation among them. As Fuhrman and Elmore (1990) point out, curriculum work is performed most effectively when each level of authority exercises its legitimate role in a collaborative manner.
Figure 2 summarizes the recommended functions for each level. Obviously the allocation of these functions should be reviewed closely and critically. Although this breakdown is based on knowledge of the literature and experience in consulting with personnel at all four levels, the specific functions undertaken at each level should be determined by state officials, district leaders, principals, and teachers through consultation. Several factors will affect how these functions are best allocated in a particular school district: the extent of state control; the school district's size; staffing in the central office; the principals' competence as curriculum leaders; and the ability of teachers to function as curriculum leaders. Thus district and school leaders should view the analysis shown in Figure 2 only as a starting point.
One way to analyze the curriculum responsibilities of each group is to determine whether they are being productive at every level. School leaders should be especially concerned with the dynamic balance of school district, school, and classroom functions, because they can have relatively little influence on state policies and standards. Even in a state with an active department of education, curriculum leaders should work with teachers and principals to ensure that meaningful work is being accomplished at the other three levels.
As noted earlier, states have been providing more and more curricular guidance to local districts and schools. As these shifts occur, it is important to be familiar with the roles and functions of state-level work on curriculum.
Four functions seem to be essential at the state level:
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