Randi Weingarten’s keynote address to the AFT convention in Seattle (read it here) identifies three “foundations” for lifting student achievement: good teaching, curriculum, and accountability. Sara Mead, writing at Eduwonk, takes exception to some things Weingarten has to say about education reform, but she agrees with Weingarten’s emphasis on high-quality, coherent curriculum. So let us now praise the AFT for its hard work improving school curricula and promoting the importance of good curricula. (Curriculum, Mead points out, is something reformers tend to ignore.)
Take a close look at Weingarten’s section on curriculum. She begins by actually naming the subjects that make up a comprehensive education: “All students need rich, well-rounded curricula that ground them in areas ranging from foreign languages to phys ed, civics to the sciences, history to health, as well as literature, mathematics and the arts,” but Weingarten also points out that solid, liberal arts curricula “aren’t routinely in place” and that teachers are “forced to [make up curriculum] every single day.”
That doesn’t make sense and it isn’t what high-performing nations do. Weingarten suggests that America take a good look at countries – she names Finland, but there are many others – that outperform us on international assessments. None have narrow, ad-hoc curricula. All have strong, coherent, comprehensive liberal arts curricula. Maybe America should dare to try something that works?