Since A Nation at Risk, Education Reform Efforts Have Mostly Stopped at the Classroom Door
Decades of education reform have left policymakers, educators, and students alike fatigued and unimpressed. From standardized testing to accountability measures and smaller classroom sizes, almost every idea under the sun has been tried and tried again, except for one: curriculum reform is the black sheep of education, long thought to be the sole domain of the individual teacher, with even the most prominent education reformers unwilling to take up its banner. Inspired by the work of E. D. Hirsch Jr. and the emerging science of reading movement, policymakers and educators should come together and work to reform the slapdash and unchallenging curriculum that defines many American classrooms and craft new knowledge-rich materials that align with high standards. When research indicates that a strong curriculum leads to greater results for students than replacing a 50th-percentile teacher with a 75th-percentile teacher, it is unthinkable that we would not make every effort to introduce high-quality instructional materials into the classrooms around the nation. The education reform movement of the past few decades has underperformed, exhausting its energy and spending its moral capital on “structural” reforms like standardized testing, accountability, and programs to transform the American teacher workforce. Placing curriculum at the center of reform efforts holds the promise to not only raise academic outcomes, but also get better results from the teachers we have—not the teachers we wish we had.
• American educators have tried many reforms to raise academic outcomes without finding one reform that works consistently.
• Curriculum reform is the one approach that hasn’t been given a fair trial.
• Rather than blaming the teacher education system, let’s try an approach that offers the promise of boosting outcomes with the existing workforce.