Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Latest Re-Definition of "Curriculum"

Seattle Public Schools has re-defined the word "curriculum" no fewer than six times in the past four years. It seems to change with each new Chief Academic Officer, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, or Executive Director of Curriculum. It also changes anytime the District needs to weasel or make other people (the Board or members of the public) appear ignorant.

Here is the most recent definition provided. It comes with the FAQ on Common Core:
What is a curriculum?
For the purposes of this conversation, let’s define curriculum as Websters’ does: a set of courses. For example, the statement “Seattle Public Schools has a math curriculum” means SPS offers a set of math courses to its students.
English Language Arts (ELA) has identified four basic components to curriculum: the standards for teaching and learning, the instructional approach, the instructional resources used for teaching and learning and the assessments to measure progress or mastery.
It's impossible to miss the fact that this answer gives two completely different definitions for "curriculum".

Here's another place where the District talks about "curriculum", the Academics web page:

We create and deliver a rigorous, standards-based curriculum that meets state grade-level expectations and prepares students for college readiness. Learn more about our core curricula:
Language ArtsMathematicsPhysical EducationScienceSocial StudiesVisual and Performing Arts
Of course, if you click on any of these links to learn more about the core curricula, you will find some of the elements, such as the standards (the Common Core State Standards as adopted by the State of Washington as the EALRs), and some reference to the instructional materials, but you won't see much, if anything, about instructional strategies or assessments.

And, let's not forget that Seattle Public Schools has said, on a number of occassions, that teachers are expected to choose an instructional strategy (such as direct instruction vs. constructivist in math) and that teachers are expected to supplement the Board-approved instructional materials since none of the textbooks exactly match the state standards. And, of course, teachers have all developed their own classroom based assessments and there are no districtwide assessments used for anything but Language Arts and Math (MAP, MSP, EOC) and a couple for science. So there can never really be a standard district curriculum given these variations, can there? So any talk about a "curriculum alignment" is just crap. If this is the definition of curriculum.

What is the talk of curriculum alignment? This is:
What Curriculum Alignment is and is not
An aligned curriculum is a coherent and consistent progression of content, instruction and assessment within and across a course of study. In an aligned system, common rigorous expectations for student learning in any one grade level are consistent across the district, grade level expectations build on the prior year’s work and feed into the next year, and teachers have the materials and training to teach the content to their students. 
Curriculum alignment guides teachers in what to teach but not how to teach. Indeed, curriculum alignment places a high value on teacher creativity and passion, and does encourage appropriate acceleration, differentiation and curriculum integration.
Superintendent Procedure 2200SP defines curricular focus as “a teaching or an instructional approach offered at the local school level”. Many schools, as we know, have a unique curricular focus, such as the arts-based curriculum at ORCA or the international education curriculum at a number of our schools. The procedure makes it clear that every school is free to adopt a curricular focus. Since instructional approach is an element of curriculum, these various curricular foci must mean an inconsistent curriculum across the district.

I have to wonder how this definition of curriculum can be consistent with the implementation of MTSS. Students who are not succeeding with the Tier I curriculum will be shifted to a Tier II curriculum with, potentially, a different set of instructional resources and a different instructional approach. Are they receiving a different curriculum? The number of curricula multiplies further as each school could adopt a different Tier II solution. There would then be other curricula for students in Tier III, fracturing the alignment further.

Students with disabilities have an IEP which defines each of those students’ curriculum. What about advanced learners? I see no mention of them on the Common Core web pages or the curriculum web pages. They have a different set of standards - a different set of expectations about what they should know and be able to do each school year. That has to mean a different curriculum for them.

Here's an intriguing question: if Spectrum and APP students are being taught to standards which are one or two grade levels ahead in Language Arts and Social Studies in middle school, then why aren't they getting high school credit and placement for the classes they take in 7th and 8th grade? The Spectrum student who is taught to the 9th grade standards in the 8th grade then advances to high school where they are taught, once again, to the 9th grade standards. They essentially repeat the instruction. What's up with that? In math and science the course they take in middle school has the same name and instructional materials as the high school course and they get high school placement for the course and they are eligible for credit as well. But not so for Language Arts and Social Studies. Why not?

Standards, of course, set a floor for student achievement, not a ceiling. Even outside of advanced learning programs, there must be further expectations for students who are working beyond the standards. Students who meet the standards in January are not directed to take the rest of the school year off and stop learning. Does our curriculum, if we have one, stretch to include these students?

Given the number and possibility of variation in the curriculum due to differences in instructional approach, instructional resources, and assessments, does Seattle Public Schools have any kind of aligned or standard curriculum? Could anyone actually say, as suggested in the answer to question one, “Seattle Public Schools has a math curriculum.”? Given the need for differentiation, is a standard or aligned curriculum even possible or desirable?

There are a lot of questions about curriculum in Seattle Public Schools, and the only thing that appears to be clear is that there is no clarity, no consistency, and no coherent governing concepts or principles. The whole thing is determined on an ad hoc basis in response to whatever question is being asked at the moment.


Charlie Mas said...

I wrote to Shauna Heath, the Executive Director of Curriculum, and asked her why Spectrum and APP students are not eligible for high school credit or placement for the language arts and social studies classes they take in middle school. Her answer was, essentially, that it isn't done because it isn't done. There is no rationale.

n said...

"the teacher...the teacher...the teacher..."

When do I sleep?