Curriculum Coalition Urges Broad Focus in Standards Setting

By Debra Viadero — January 08, 1992 4 min read

WASHINGTON--Efforts to set national educational standards and develop a national testing system should be more broadly focused and should address inequities in school resources, according to a statement issued by 18 subject-matter groups.

The statement, released after a two-day meeting here last month, represents the first formal advocacy statement of the Alliance for Curriculum Reform, a coalition of groups that began meeting more than a year ago to promote curriculum reforms and discuss changes already taking place at the national level.

The group, once known informally as the “curriculum congress,” directed its statement at the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, a Congressionally mandated reform panel that is expected to issue a report this month calling for the development of national standards in school subjects and a national system of student assessments.

While agreeing on the need for such standards, the statement urges the standards council to address the “curriculum imbalance” in previous national-level efforts to reform education.

By focusing on only five academic areas--English, mathematics, science, history, and geography--the national education goals and President Bush’s “America 2000" plan ignore key subjects that make up the school curriculum, the group contends.

Instead of having the subjects targeted for reform dictated from the national level, the group says, “states and districts should determine, in consultation with both professionals and the public, criteria for a comprehensive and balanced curriculum.”

‘A Hell of a Lot of Teachers’

Moreover, the alliance contends, the curriculum should be at the center of school reforms. Any efforts to develop national standards for what should be taught and for what students should know and be able to do, it adds, should include the professional organizations specializing in those subjects and broadly representative groups such as the alliance.

Some alliance members have long complained of being left out of national-level reform efforts.

“I would hope that this statement would give caution that these groups represent a hell of a lot of teachers and those folks are either going to carry out or not carry out reforms of any kind,” said Judith Renyi, a rounding member of the group and the director of Collaboratives for Humanities and Arts Teaching, or CHART, a Rockefeller Foundation-funded effort that sponsors curriculum projects in 13 states and school districts.

The statement also warns that developing standards in discrete subjects could result in “further entrenching and distancing each subject from the other.”

Instead, the group suggests, the standards panel should consider more integrated curriculum-reform efforts.

“Our perspective on an integrated curriculum grows out of a conviction that integration does not mean watering down,” said Alan E. Farstrup, the acting executive director of the International Reading Association and an alliance member. “It’s also teaching students what they should know and be able to do in a real-world context.”

Addressing the issue of equity, the statement asserts that “in no event” should national standards or a national system of assessments be implemented “without a clear and feasible system of support for those students who have benefited least from our education system.”

A Step Forward

While other groups have expressed similar concerns to the standards panel, the statement last month represents a significant step for the Alliance for Curriculum Reform.

The group first met in August 1990 and moved to form a permanent organization a year later. While the group’s overall aims are broad, an impetus for its formation was dissatisfaction over some national-level reforms underway. The group had been unable, however, to agree on a pointed, unified response to those efforts. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1991 .)

Twenty-five groups attended the Dec. 13-14 meeting here. Only 18 signed the statement, because representatives of some groups said they needed to consult their boards before adding their names.

In addition to CHART and the I.R.A., the signers included:

The American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the American Association of School Librarians, the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, the Alliance for Education in Global and International Studies, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Council for Basic Education, the Educational Theater Association, the Joint Council on Economic Education, the Music Educators National Conference, the National Art Education Association, the National Dance Association, the National Education Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, the National Science Teachers Association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, and the Quality Education for Minorities Network.

A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 1992 edition of Education Week as Curriculum Coalition Urges Broad Focus in Standards Setting