So You Say You Want a National Curriculum?
In case you missed it, about two weeks ago the Pearson Foundation announced that it was receiving funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a national K-12 curriculum. Gates ponied up $3 million to have Pearson develop 24 courses, 11 in math and 13 in English-Language Arts. At the announcement, both foundations positioned it as the next logical step in the adoption of Common Core State Standards.
The announcement seemed to go over with a bit of a thud. First, it met some people's fears that a Common Core would undoubtedly lead to a common curriculum. And for the growing chorus that believes in local control and local decisionmaking, having bureaucrats in Washington (or even with a non-partisan foundation) determine what fifth grade math needed to look like on the third Tuesday of March just reeked of the nationalism folks have pushed back on for decades (or even since the creation of public education in the United States itself).
Others were concerned by the implications of Gates and Pearson Foundations working together. After all, was the Pearson Foundation simply developing curriculum, on Gates' dime, that the parent company, Pearson, would then turn around and sell? After all, who better to "align" with a common curriculum than the company perceived to develop the curriculum itself? Isn't it logical that Pearson's textbooks and PD and turnaround services and testing would then get the seal of approval from the Gates/Pearson Foundation partnership?
While the head of the Pearson Foundation told EdWeek "no firm exclusivity agreement" was in place with Pearson, it hardly takes a Ph.D. to realize that Pearson, and not McGraw-Hill or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, would have the inside track to the Pearson Foundation's new course sequence.
This, of course, followed on the heels of the Al Shanker Institute announcing its "Call for Common Content," what some saw as the siren song for a national curriculum (but which Eduflack saw as more of a muddying between standards and curriculum).
If the Shanker Institute was the serve from the left, we now, most certainly, have the return from the right. Over the weekend, the K12 Innovation Manifesto was released. Citing concerns with national assessment consortia, national curriculum guidelines, national curriculum models, and national curriculum materials, the group objects to "transferring power to Washington, DC." Specifically, the latest group to weigh in on the nationalization of American education highlights:
* There is no constitutional or statutory basis for national standards, national assessments, or national curricula
* There is no consistent evidence that a national curriculum leads to high academic achievement
* The national standards on which the administration is planning to base a national curriculum are inadequate
* There is no body of evidence for a "best" design for curriculum sequences in any subject
* There is no evidence to justify a single high school curriculum for all students
This latest manifesto is led by Bill Evers, the former assistant secretary for policy in President George W. Bush's Education Department. Signatories include names like Doug Carnine, John Chubb, Will Fitzhugh, Jay Greene, Charles Miller, Grover Norquist, John Silber, Sandra Stotsky, Bob Sweet, Abigail Thernstrom, and Richard Vedder. (So it is safe to say we won't be seeing this on HuffPo any time soon.)
This could shape up to a little more than just some East Coast/West Coast dueling education manifestos. The Al Shanker Institute is very much offering the music that Senate Education Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) loves to hear. Meanwhile, Evers and the K12 Innovation crew are singing from House Education Committee John Kline's (MN) hymnal. So this could very well be one of the first meaningful ESEA reauthorization fights shaping up.
After all, it has everything we need. Ideology. Dollars. For-profits. Big brother. Local control. Good data. Squishy data. And a soapbox that virtually anyone can stand on. I smell a series of DC-based education blob forums in our future ...