The Critical Importance of Curriculum
Last week Common Core, a national group that advocates for a rigorous, content-rich curriculum covering the full range of academic subjects for all children, published a report looking at curriculum and learning expectations for students in nine countries that outperform the United States on major international assessments. Their conclusion: These countries outperform us in part because they have higher expectations and expose students to a broader, more in-depth curriculum. Key quote from Common Core director Lynne Munson, "We believe that the content of a student’s education has a greater influence on his level of achievement than does delivery or accountability systems. So reform ideas like standards or tests don’t impress us unless they make content a priority. Thus far, the debate in this country over those measures has discounted the importance of content." Worth checking out.
While many of these countries have curricula and learning expectations for the early grades, Common Core sampled curriculum and guidelines starting in fourth or fifth grade -- leaving us with some questions: What, for example, have Hong Kong's fourth graders learned in the early grades that allows them to "Investigat[e] some simple patterns and phenomena related to light, sound, electricity, movement and energy" by fourth grade? Bringing Hong Kong or Finland-style curriculum and expectations to the later grades won't do much good if children's experiences in preschool and the early grades haven't exposed them to rich content knowledge that they can draw on to learn new ideas and concepts in the later elementary grades.
As research by both the American Federation of Teachers and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has shown, the early elementary school years are home to some of the weakest areas in existing state standards, and the early grades curriculum -- particularly for low-income students -- is too often a "content-free zone." What can we learn from other countries about improving children's access to high-quality, rich content -- in a full range of academic subjects, including music and the arts -- in the early grades?