Conservative ‘Manifesto’ Blasts Shared Curriculum,Tests

By Catherine Gewertz — May 09, 2011 2 min read
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A group made up largely of conservatives has issued a “manifesto” arguing against development of shared curriculum and tests for the common standards.

The manifesto, issued today and signed by more than 100 leaders in education, business, and politics, is a response to a document issued in March by the Albert Shanker Institute, which argued for common curriculum for the standards. It’s also a response to the U.S. Department of Education’s $360 million investment in the development of assessments for the common standards. That money was awarded to two big consortia of states as part of the federal government’s Race to the Top competition. [UPDATED: See my story on the new manifesto.]

The newest entry into the debate about common standards and assessments was organized by Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution; Jay P. Greene and Sandra Stotsky, both professors at the University of Arkansas; Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice, and Ze’ev Wurman, a former U.S. Department of Education official who has worked on California’s standards and tests in math. All have been critical of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which has led to adoption of a new set of shared learning guidelines in math and English/language arts by all but six states.

Calling itself a “counter-manifesto,” the document issued today argues that shared curriculum and tests will stifle innovation, threaten local and state control of education decisions, and standardize learning for students with diverse needs. It also argues that shared curriculum and tests are prohibited by federal law.

In addition to attacking the Shanker Institute’s proposal for shared curriculum and the Race to the Top assessment consortia’s work to design common tests, the signatories criticize the consortia’s plans to develop curricular and instructional supports such as content frameworks and model units.

Arguments for a common curriculum are flawed, the signatories argue, because there is no evidence that it would lead to higher student achievement or that there is one “best” approach to curriculum for all students. Additionally, they say, the standards on which they are based are not sound enough to serve as the foundation for such a curriculum.

Signers of the new manifesto did find one area of agreement with the Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers, for whose late founder the institute was named: that curriculum should be developed before assessments. But such efforts should be decentralized and varied, not “centrally controlled” by an “elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy,” they write.

The Shanker Institute manifesto, which now has more than 200 signatories, said that it did not advocate one curriculum for all students, but multiple “curricular guides,” all based on the common standards, that would allow teachers many ways to impart those standards.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.