Michelle Rhee and Cathie Black appear to have little in common. Rhee has spent her career in K-12 education, while Black is a newcomer imported from business. But their ideas about education share at least one striking and disturbing commonality, exhibited just within the last week: A lack of appreciation, nay even an aversion, for curricula. When asked by Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio what role curriculum would have in her new advocacy venture, former DC schools head Rhee said, in a word, none. “The last thing we’re going to do,” she said, “is get wrapped up in curriculum battles.”
And, in her introductory missive to employees of the New York City school system which she new heads, Black gushed over 21st century skills, asserting that teaching such skills is the chief goal of K-12 education. Topping Black’s list of work she wants to get done: “[R]ethink[ing] the standard model of a classroom so we can teach 21st Century skills in innovative and engaging ways.” 21st century skills is not a curriculum. It is a fad.
Neither of these women speaks about ensuring that all of America’s schoolchildren are taught history or literature or the arts or foreign languages. Without that kind of knowledge, not only will kids’ dreams be limited by their scant understanding of the world, but they will be unable to move beyond basic reading skills.
Rhee’s and Black’s plans both lack the essential ingredient: A concern with curriculum quality. And they will leave too many children behind.