Over on Ed Excellence, Robert Pondiscio published an editorial entitled “The Fierce Urgency of Eventually” in which he argues that those reform efforts that ignore curricular and instructional issues present less-than-timely and -helpful alternatives at the very time when US education needs immediate, substantive change. Mr. Pondiscio presses his case for doing the hard work of specifying what students need to know. He wants reformers to talk about—get ready!—curriculum, teaching, and learning!
Of course, once we have that hard work done, we can develop ways of assessing whether students know what we have specified—don’t worry, it can even include something other than the much-maligned multiple choice items (even those could be constructed in such a way as to be pretty darn good indicators of competence). And, once we have those assessments—those measuring sticks—created, why, we could even compare different teaching programs to see whether some help students master those concepts and skills more rapidly or more broadly or more deeply than other programs. Shoot, we could even let teachers and parents (maybe even administrators!) make informed decisions about what sorts of instructional practices they ought to employ!
But, as Mr. Pondiscio notes, the educational reformers are intent upon debating other matters, which he calls “a bit of a sham.” We’ll hear a lot in the coming months about charter schools, class sizes, uniforms, test preparation procedures, value-added assessments, funding streams, teacher tenure, alternative licensure, unions, merit pay, ad barfdom….
Most highly visible educational reform efforts seem focused on matters that are not going to yield benefits for students in the near term. If one faithfully executes a strong curriculum and powerful instruction in a school where failure has been common, salutary changes can be seen within just a few years. Success for All, Direct Instruction, and other comprehensive models have shown this repeatedly.