Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy wants the U.S. to reform the way that it approaches its instructional core. By this, he means “the combination of state-mandated standards, curriculum frameworks, course syllabi, instructional materials, and tests and examinations that together define and measure what students are taught.”
Tucker’s recommendations, like his other education reform efforts, are largely based on decades of international comparisons. First and foremost, the U.S. is quite different from other countries in that we do not have national standards and aligned curriculum and testing created and monitored by the government. The U.S. usually does not have this even at the state level. Even other countries that do rely on corporations to create standards, curriculum, and assessments still often have government officials placed in important positions within those corporations or at least working closely with those corporations.
Most U.S. states have made a recent attempt at inter-state agreement through the Common Core State Standards, but as the standards become increasingly politicized, state commitment is weakening. Some states also are engaging in multi-state assessment consortia. But Tucker has major questions about the decisions made with regard to these assessments in an attempt to keep the price down. In most countries, tests cost a lot more because they are essay-based and require humans to carefully grade them. Essays allow for a lot more in terms of a more complete understanding of student achievement. Then, those tests are released to help future students have a practical understanding of what they need to achieve to reach the levels they need to succeed. In the U.S., high-stakes assessments are used only for accountability, not as formative assessments.
The key issue for Tucker, then, is the issue of how much school districts are willing to pay for a high quality instructional core. Publishers have not done a thorough job aligning their curricular resources to higher standards because they know states and school districts are not willing to pay the higher pricetag for a comprehensive overhaul.
The bottom line is that if state or national education agencies demanded higher quality instructional core elements and were willing to pay to get them, the situation would sort itself out. To Tucker, it is a case of priorities.
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