Mr. Wilson, You Lie!

by Robert Pondiscio
September 17th, 2009

Over at Curriculum Matters, Sean Cavanagh gets a response from NEA executive director John Wilson to the Common Core letter about the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.  It’s an eyebrow-raiser.

This group continues to amaze me,” he said of the letter-writers, “that they would pit core knowledge against 21st-century skills, when our students need both. … I have witnessed first- hand teachers using 21st-century skills and new technology to enhance the teaching of core subjects. To relegate today’s students to rows of desks, a teacher at the front of the classroom espousing content, and a textbook with paper and pencil is to guarantee that our students will be left with the lowest skills and the lowest-paying jobs.”

So a rich, well-rounded core curriculum means kids in rows, and a teacher in the front of the room droning on from a textbook?  Says who?  Visit a Core Knowledge school, Mr. Wilson.  Over half of them are public schools.  You’ll see some dynamic teaching and learning going on, not the picture of 19th century drudgery you paint.  You know what else you’ll see in some of those schools?

Your members.

You’re forgiven for not recognizing them, though.  They’re not standing at the front of the classroom, droning on from textbooks to neat rows of students. 

Here’s what continues to amaze me:  that people who should know better equate a robust curriculum with boring teaching.  And that a leader of our largest teachers union would bash teachers as mindless automatons.


  1. The authors are focused on the chaff, not the wheat. To date, no state has assured the alignment of its classroom instruction and teaching materials to their content standards and assessments. The lack of a truly aligned state model has consistently limited state and school district efforts to achieve student learning objectives and undermined the best curriculum and our talented teachers.

    U.S. educator concern about the downside affects of this misalignment are compounded by the academic success of our competitor nations. These nations have well-aligned instructional systems in place, and for the past two decades, as U.S. student achievement progress stagnated, the academic growth of their students has soared.

    The sobering social and economic conseqences of this ongoing trend have now led our national and state education leaders to launch the Common Core State Standards Initiative which intends to integrate content knowledge and 21st Century skills in the standards and assessment frameworks.

    State and classroom implementation of the new state standards will be a massive and complex undertaking, involving significant cost and considerable effort by multiple teams of professionals at multiple levels. Not only will each team’s tasks be intricate and challenging, but the integration of each team’s work product adds additional complexity to the process.

    The necessary alignment between the new standards and state-defined frameworks, classroom curriculum and assessments must be done accurately for the Initiative to succeed at the classroom and student levels. Success will require participating states to develop comprehensive top-to-bottom, end-to-end aligned instructional systems with the effective transfer of content knowledge as their primary objective.

    Teachers understand that if what is being taught in the classroom is not closely aligned with what the state and school district intend to be learned and assessed, students will miss the targeted learning objectives mark and achievement gaps will result. As Core Knowledge has demonstrated, in an effective education delivery system, the standards must set forth, clearly and specifically, the sequential content knowledge and skills students need to learn.

    Content knowledge is the unifying factor connecting policy, standards, curriculum, assessments, teaching and learning. Knowledge and skills are the natural common denominator that support and connect all education system processes.
    In a student-achievement,knowledge-centric education system, all educational materials and processes are linked and sequenced to their respective knowledge and skill item details.

    Alignment at the granular level enables content standards to be truly teachable and measurable. It ensures that state standards, whether common core or independent, unambiguously identify and reference the precise knowledge and skills intended to be sequentially taught and assessed in the classroom.

    By taking the ambiguity out of the standards, curriculum content and assessments can be aligned with the standards. Districts know the curriclum is precisely aligned, teachers know what to teach, students what to learn and states what to assess. Even the Core Knowledge curriculum can be ‘aligned’ with the standards to a meaningful level of clarity and usefullness to its cadre of teachers.

    Systemically, this standards definition paradim shift translates vison into a classroom reality in which each and every student receives instruction aligned to well understood learning objectives. Downstream, the reality is a portable, customized, up-to-date individual K-12 learning plan for each student which is manageged in real-time and adds a year or more of academic progress, each and every year. The vision is the wheat, and it is at hand for those states and teachers who can leave the chaff behind.

    Comment by Steve Kussmann — September 18, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  2. Since the focus of most of the ed schools in the US is not on ensuring that teachers have subject matter content mastery in order to be certified, how do we effectively get content into most teachers’ classrooms?

    Is the animosity toward “lucid lectures” and “sage on the stage” in students’ classrooms a reaction to the deemphasis on content in ed schools and the emphasis on pedagogical skills?

    The focus of the NEA is on the teachers’ needs, not the students. It’s important to them that adults paying them dues not be asked to do something that no one trained them to do.

    In the US is anyone insisting that teachers show their content knowledge in order to be certified?

    Is that not the primary reason for pushing skills over content in most US classrooms?

    Comment by Student of History — September 18, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

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