Steven Weber

Superintendent or Asst Super

Fayetteville, AR

Interests: Curriculum design and...

  • Posted 7 Years ago
  • 6.0k

What Should Students Know and Be Able to Do?

Recently, Education Week posted an online article written by Catherine Gewertz. 'Currriculum' Definition Raises Red Flags is one of the most thought-provoking articles that I have read on the topic of the Common Core State Standards and the debate about what every student should know and be able to do. Teachers around the world constantly struggle with curriculum development and debate who should determine curriculum. New schools have been created due to the fact that the adults in the community or the teachers within the school seek a new type of curriculum for students. Gewertz interviewed several curriculum consultants, leading education organizations, and state department of education officials about their definition of 'curriculum.'

Curriculum is a difficult term to define. For some educators, curriculum is viewed as the unit plan, the textbook, local curriculum documents or state standards. According to Walker & Soltis (1992), "no substantial agreement exists among philosophers, the public, or educators on what should be the aims of a general education for all" (p. 79).


What are your thoughts on Gewertz's article? What is your definition of curriculum? Do you think that the Common Core State Standards are the curriculum or do you believe there is a distinct difference between standards and curriculum? Who should unpack standards (a company/vendor, the State Department of Education, the Director of Secondary Instruction, or a team of teachers)?

Select one of the quotes below and share your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with this perspective? How do you determine curriculum in your school?

Curriculum: Multiple Perspectives

According to Fenwick English (2000), "Curriculum is any document that exists in a school that defines the work of teachers by identifying the content to be taught and the methods to be used" (p.2).

"Curriculum for school districts is no longer 'just nice to have.' Curriculum is a necessity for furthering student achievement. Further, school districts through their curricula, have the tools at their disposal to control and ensure what students learn" (Squires, 2009, p. 133).

"Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether the role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school" (Wiles, 2009, p.2).

"If the hypothesis.....introduced is true - that any subject can be taught to any child in some honest form - then it should follow that a curriculum ought to be built around the great issues, principles, and values that a society deems worthy of the continual concern of its members" (Bruner, 1960).

"Academic standards are not a curriculum; they are a framework for designing curriculum. A curriculum is a coherent, teacher-friendly document that reflects the intent of the academic standards" (Erickson, 2007, p. 48).

"When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expanisve level of work" (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122).

"Curriculum design and delivery face one fundamental problem in schools. When the door is shut and nobody else is around, the classroom teacher can select and teach just about any curriculum he or she decides is appropriate" (English, 2000, p. 1).


Bruner, J. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

English, F.W. (2000). Deciding what to teach and test: Developing, aligning and auditing the curriculum. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Erickson, H.L. (2007). Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Gewertz, C. (2011). 'Currriculum' Definition Raises Red Flags. Retrieved from on April 1, 2011.

Squires, D.A. (2009). Curriculum alignment: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Walker, D.F., & Soltis, J.F. (1992). Curriculum and aims (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Wiles, J. (2009). Leading curriculum development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Zmuda, A., Kuklis, R., & Kline, E. (2004). Transforming schools: Creating a culture of continuous improvement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


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05 Apr 11, 07:34 PM

Although we are still in the renewal process, some of our UbD-framed curriculum can be found on our district website: Our curriculum maps are the Part III documents which can be accessed through the department links on the left side of the page. Our recent focus has been Math, Science, English/Language Arts, and Social Studies, so those are the most complete. The other departments will become the focus the next couple of years. We have tried to involve as many classroom teachers as possible in the development of the curriculum. That has required UbD training and support throughout the process. One great long-term impact of this is the view that these will always be "drafts/works-in-progress", so they will be the basis of collegial discussions to constantly improve them. They also naturally lead to Stage 2 assessment and Stage 3 instructional practice discussions.

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05 Apr 11, 07:20 PM


You had me at Ubd! :) I also love Lynn Erickson's work! I think your comments support what Hannah is doing in her school district. Curriculum development requires time and money. However, it is an investment with great return! I enjoy working with classroom teachers to discuss what is essential or the power standards. I would like to learn more about your district's work with Power Standards. Thank you for sharing your experiences and the success of curriculum development at the local level. I enjoyed reading about your process!


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05 Apr 11, 07:15 PM


I agree with you 100%! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I was happy hear your experience with more than 400 teachers. Curriculum development is a 'process' and it cannot be delivered to classroom doors in shrink wrap. I support standards for education, but I do not want the state department, vendors, or the federal government writing curriculum and unpacking standards. The authors you mentioned have provided a solid foundation for curriculum developers. When teachers within a grade level and across schools have a clear understanding of what students should know and be able to do, it supports teaching and learning. I look forward to reviewing your district's website and learning more about the curriculum development process used by teachers in Federal Way Public Schools. Thank you for your inspiring post!

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05 Apr 11, 08:20 AM

Using UbD to frame our work, our district supports what Lynn Erickson says, "Academic standards are not a curriculum; they are a framework for designing curriculum. A curriculum is a coherent, teacher-friendly document that reflects the intent of the academic standards." (Erickson, 2007, p. 48). We use the standards to select the ideas of 40 year importance and identify them as Power Standards. Those Power Standards then guide the development of Enduring Understandings (and their aligned Essential Questions), Declarative Knowledge, and Procedural Knowledge. With those learning goals articulated (not an easy task), we can then develop assessments which provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their progress toward achieving the learning goals. Having the assessments in place makes the development of the instructional plan much more logical than what we would have done in the past. We can be more comfortable that what students are doing in class has a clear purpose related to their achievement of learning goals aligned to the standards set at the state or national level.

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03 Apr 11, 07:23 PM


You ask: Who should unpack standards (a company/vendor, the State Department of Education, the Director of Secondary Instruction, or a team of teachers)?

This is an excellent question that districts moving toward fully-implemented standards-based education systems have been struggling with over the last decade. In a previous district, we created power standards at the district level by grade/subject. Then, schools determined how they would be unpacked.

My current district, however, uses a structured process with teams of teachers developing power standards, unpacking learning targets aligned with rigor and depth of knowledge, learning progressions (rubrics), and item banks. So far, more than 400 teachers have been involved in this process that began full speed ahead, with a directive from the School Board, in June, 2010 after a K-12 grading policy was was approved.

What I like about the process we're currently using is that it's (1) based on research by Guskey, Marzano, Reeves, and O'Connor (to name a few), (2) consistent across all grade levels with both vertical and horizontal alignment, (3) providing teachers with a canvas to paint on (the standards and learning targets) but doesn't limit the type of artistic tools they can use to develop a masterpiece (the instructional best practices), (4) providing teachers with resources (such as the standards-based item bank they created where they can choose questions for specific standards at a desired level of rigor, and add it to an electronic assessment), and (5) it engages teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators in the process.

- Hannah

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