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More on Common Standards

It's been too long since I've written; technical difficulties and then the passing of a close friend have gotten in the way.

I wanted to revisit the conversation from the last post, about whether or not it made sense for the Department of Education to make lots pre-written curricula--whole unit plans for all different subjects at all different grade levels--available to teachers in some sort of online database. The curricula would be designed to align perfectly with the CCLS (Common Core Learning Standards). Then teachers would have the option of using the CCLS-aligned unit plans, or not using them and writing their own, or augmenting the pre-made materials to fit their classes as they saw fit.

Readers wrote me personally and commented with a lot of constructive feedback, some of which I wanted to address here. The first, from a teacher named TJLockhart, was a comment in response to my stipulation that the curricula should be designed by teachers who still taught, and thus had not lost touch with what "works" in a classroom setting. TJLockhart cautioned that while losing touch is always a valid concern, I should not under-rate the skills of instructional coaches, particularly since some of them were themselves teachers for decades. Just as these instructional coaches now are able to offer helpful guidance to teachers, so too could they be charged with creating high quality, user-friendly, CCLS-aligned curricula to be used en masse. A valid point indeed.

Another reader, who then removed her post, suggested the importance of making curricula open and adaptable for teachers, rather than simply creating a script to be followed. Another great point. This reader reminded me that it's important to honor different teaching practices: While some teachers really like to create and invent, some are more comfortable using tried and true practices that have served before, and do not want to reinvent the wheel. Both are valid MO's.

Lastly, a teacher in the Cypress-Fairbanks district of Texas emailed me to explain how her school district has done what I suggested--creating a database of curricula for teachers--despite not having adopted the CCLS standards (as Texas as a whole has not adopted them.) My teacher contact explained to me that CyFair--committed to improving student outcomes--has poured a great deal of time and man-power into creating strong, rigorous curricular materials of their own, which despite not being CCLS aligned, are nevertheless fantastic. The materials are created by curriculum specialists, many of whom are former teachers, and most of whom also work as "teacher coaches," to ensure that the written curriculum matches what is taught and is teachable to begin with. Additionally, CyFair testing data is made available online, such that if a group of students is having trouble with a certain skill-set, appropriate curricular interventions can be made.

There are lots of good ideas here, many of which are probably relevant and replicable at the national level.

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