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Lesson Plans

Fw: Who controls k-12 curriculum

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Larry Cox (L_J_Cox)
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 17:14:35 -0700

>>The question of who controls the K-12 curriculum in the arts is examined.
>> Control is shared by politicians, administrators, educators and parents
>>in a complex, interlocking grid of joint responsibility.
>>Nothing in education is simple these days. And issues that have always
>>been complex now sometimes seem impenetrable. Take, for example, the
>>of who controls the K-12 curriculum in the arts. One glib answer is that
>>no one does--but that doesn't enhance our understanding. Another is that
>>everyone does--but that doesn't help either. The truth is that in every
>>discipline, control is shared by politicians, administrators, educators,
>>and parents in a complex, interlocking grid of joint responsibility, and
>>any number of other groups and special interests also exert influence.
>>The relative authority of the competing players depends on state and local
>>circumstances, and the variance is enormous from discipline to discipline,
>>from place to place, and from issue to issue. Still, generalizations can
>>be useful if one recognizes that they may be inapplicable in any given
>>Someone once said that there are four curricula in the schools, not one.
>>The first is the official curriculum. That is the one that exists in the
>>statutes and the curriculum guides. The second is the curriculum that
>>teach. That is not necessarily the same as the official curriculum. The
>>third is the curriculum that students learn. That is sometimes sharply
>>at odds with the curriculum that teachers intend to teach. The fourth is
>>the curriculum that's tested. That can be different from the other three,
>>and it is important because test results often serve as a basis for
>>The First Curriculum
>>Suppose it is true that these four curricula exist in the arts. Who
>>the first curriculum, the official one? The official curriculum is
>>by a confusing melange of disparate forces that often work at
>>These forces include, of course, the state legislature, state education
>>agency, state board of education, chief state school officer, local board
>>of education, superintendent, principals, curriculum directors, and
>>The legal authority of the many players in the struggle for control of
>>the curriculum varies far more widely from state to state and even from
>>district to district than most people realize. In some states, many
>>regarding curriculum are made at the state level, while other states are
>>thoroughly committed to local control. Some individuals are remarkably
>>skilled in using their positions to influence curriculum, while others
>>are equally skilled in resisting such influences.
>>The role of teachers in the first curriculum is typically limited to
>>in writing official curriculum guides. Thus far, teacher empowerment is
>>more rhetoric than fact. Principals, on the other hand, are being given
>>increasing authority for the allocation of resources in many schools, and
>>with that authority comes increasing control of the curriculum. Often they
>>must consult with site-based management committees, but sometimes they
>>have the final say with respect to the arts programs in their schools.
>>The results vary widely, often depending on the nature of the program the
>>principal experienced as a student. It, is regrettable that such important
>>decisions are so dependent on personal preferences and idiosyncrasies.
>>It would be difficult to find communities where site-based management has
>>been helpful to arts education. When site-based management committees are
>>allowed to adopt curricula that omit requirements mandated in state
>>they should be required to explain their actions to their communities.
>>The business community has become a major influence in the K-12 curriculum
>>in recent years. Although business leaders tend to support arts education
>>when speaking to arts educators, in most forums their influence has been
>>strongest in support of mathematics, science, and literacy skills. Still,
>>businesses want workers who can make decisions, solve problems, engage
>>in higher-order thinking skills, and work effectively with other
>>skills that are particularly important in the arts.
>>Parents and members of the community are especially powerful influences
>>in both the first and the second curriculum. Ultimately, local community
>>support is the key to whether arts programs survive and flourish or
>>they atrophy and die. If community support is strong enough, arts programs
>>simply cannot be cut. If community support is weak, the programs may be
>>nibbled away bit by bit with every successive fiscal crisis until they
>>are eliminated entirely or exist in name only.
>>The media exert a strong influence on arts programs in subtle ways not
>>generally recognized. When arts educators have been ineffective in
>>and public relations, the media may take the position that the schools'
>>only priorities are mathematics, science, language and literature, and
>>social studies and the arts will be seriously endangered. Sometimes the
>>media give the impression that arts programs consist entirely of marching
>>bands, show choirs, theatrical competitions, and refrigerator art. In some
>>communities, arts courses are perceived to exist primarily to provide
>>or to serve as backdrops for community activities rather than to educate.
>>Sometimes, for example, bands are asked to perform not only for football
>>games but also for boys' and girls' basketball games, boys' and girls'
>>track meets, hockey and soccer games, and occasionally even swimming and
>>wrestling matches. Music groups can fulfill their legitimate
>>to serve their communities and still maintain their proper focus on
>>but they will need the understanding of the media as well as that of the
>>public. They will also need the support of school administrators.
>>Support groups such as band boosters or drama parents' clubs can exert
>>considerable influence, particularly if they raise large sums of money.
>>Frequently, this influence is not healthy and does not promote a balanced
>>and comprehensive educational program. Teachers should seek ways to
>>support groups from decisions concerning the curriculum. Schools should
>>provide the equipment necessary so that programs are not dependent on
>>sources to raise funds.
>>Artists and arts organizations often influence curriculum as they seek
>>employment opportunities for artists in schools. State and local arts
>>offer financial support to enable students to attend art galleries,
>>productions, and performances of music and dance, and they often have the
>>backing of community leaders. Foundations and other philanthropic agencies
>>exert similar influence on the curriculum. These opportunities to utilize
>>the artistic resources of the community are very useful, but they must
>>supplement rather than dominate the arts curriculum.
>>The first curriculum is the result of a quilt-like patchwork of competing
>>pressures, positive and negative, that combine to support or undermine
>>the educational objectives of the program. Educators must learn to utilize
>>these pressures when they can help and to resist them when they are not
>>The Second Curriculum
>>The second curriculum (what is taught) lies primarily in the hands of
>>Here is where de facto control lies, and in the arts, there are relatively
>>few checks on what the teacher can do. The influence of the teacher is
>>dominant despite the best efforts of politicians and administrators
>>teachers, more than any other professionals, tend to work in isolation
>>from other adults. Once the classroom door is closed, there is no one to
>>monitor what they do. Of course, the isolation of teachers is also a
>>in that it provides few opportunities for them to learn from their
>>Still, ultimately, no one has greater influence over the curriculum than
>>Teachers also exercise influence by acting together in professional
>>that hold conferences, conduct programs of professional development, and
>>publish journals and monographs. The professional associations provide
>>the primary arenas in which professional issues are discussed. The views
>>of the associations may be influenced by the views of higher education
>>or commercial interests, but the opinions of the teacher will ultimately
>>dominate, and the policies of a professional association of teachers
>>be significantly at odds with the views of the majority of teachers
>>Unions, like professional associations, can influence curriculum directly,
>>though their concerns typically focus on economics and working conditions.
>>The views of a union will probably reflect those of the general
>>which may not necessarily be the views of the arts teachers who constitute
>>only a small minority of members. During the 1970s, some union locals
>>more planning time for elementary teachers, and districts sometimes hired
>>music and art teachers to offer instruction during the classroom teachers'
>>planning time. Since then, unions have often failed their arts teacher
>>members by refusing to resist efforts to reduce or eliminate arts
>>Higher education institutions and higher education accrediting agencies
>>play an important role in influencing the second curriculum. Teachers tend
>>to teach what they were taught to teach, and most faculty members in arts
>>education are themselves former K-12 arts educators. Teacher educators
>>also tend to be members of professional associations and authors of
>>publications. And what is considered important by higher education also
>>tends to be considered important by higher education accrediting agencies.
>>Textbook publishers are widely thought to represent a powerful influence
>>on the second curriculum. They do exercise some influence in music, where
>>textbooks are widely used through grade 8, but not in dance, theatre, or
>>visual arts, where there are virtually no textbooks. Although the number
>>of textbooks in music has shrunk dramatically during the past generation,
>>there are still enough varied materials available commercially that the
>>market must reflect the wishes of teachers. Further, without exception,
>>the authors of the music textbooks are themselves teachers or former
>>It is probably accurate to say that textbooks reflect the music curriculum
>>as much as they influence it.
>>The Third Curriculum
>>The students themselves determine the third curriculum (what is learned).
>>They influence arts programs in powerful ways, especially in the secondary
>>school. They vote with their feet. They elect courses they consider
>>and don't elect courses they consider boring and dull. It is easy to
>>on paper what one considers an ideal arts curriculum based on one's
>>but the program will succeed only if students are interested in the
>>made available to them.
>>Sometimes students who receive poor instruction in the early grades learn,
>>above all else, that they don't like the arts. It is remarkable that we
>>teachers can take subject matter as attractive, appealing, and fascinating
>>as the arts and make it uninteresting, unappealing, or unchallenging. Some
>>students learn that the arts are not for them. Too many of today's
>>for example, were told in elementary school that they had no talent for
>>art and that they should remain silent while the class was singing. Much
>>of the blame for the problems of arts education today is directly
>>to such mistakes in the past.
>>Students tend to learn what they enjoy learning. They may also learn what
>>they think they are supposed to learn or what they think they will be
>>on, particularly if they like the teacher. But students who don't care
>>or don't wish to learn cannot be compelled to do so, and some will take
>>perverse pride in not learning.
>>Students learn the arts outside of school as well as inside. Sometimes
>>they learn far more outside. For example, the music program that takes
>>place in students' basements and garages may be far more effective than
>>the one that takes place in the school music room. Music is an immensely
>>important aspect of popular culture. Music surrounds students daily. They
>>cannot ignore it. They learn it for social reasons quite apart from
>>ones. There is no popular math or popular biology that competes with the
>>math and biology taught in school. But to many students, school music has
>>little in common with real music. The competition between the two is
>>evident, and school music is often the loser.
>>The Fourth Curriculum
>>The legislature, the state education agency, and the local board of
>>can regulate the fourth curriculum (what I is tested) just as they can
>>regulate the first. They can establish testing programs, though in general
>>they have chosen not to exert that authority in the arts. As a result,
>>in the arts, the fourth curriculum is largely a vacuum. It is not a factor
>>because it scarcely exists--at least in the forms familiar in other
>>In the arts, the fourth curriculum is present only in the contests and
>>competitions that every year attract many thousands of soloists and large
>>and small ensembles in music and smaller numbers of participants in the
>>other arts. Historically, these competitions have served a useful purpose
>>by generating interest and promoting high standards. Beyond a certain
>>however, their influence may become less positive when it produces
>>competition or when it undermines the balance of the program by placing
>>excessive emphasis on certain specialized aspects.
>>Test publishers exert a strong influence on the fourth curriculum in some
>>disciplines, but not in the arts. A few standardized tests are available
>>in music, but do not exert a significant influence on the curriculum in
>>any of the arts. Even when standardized tests are used, their results are
>>not featured in the local newspapers and viewed with shock and alarm when
>>they decline or with triumph and pride when they improve. Arts teachers
>>rely heavily on performance-based assessment, and the few teacher-made
>>written tests that are used are, of course, consistent with the second
>>Students and parents tend to assume that what is tested is what is
>>Consequently, the lack of standardized testing in the arts has often been
>>a major handicap to arts programs. Though few arts teachers would desire
>>mandated, high-stakes testing in their disciplines, the lack of such tests
>>has tended to undermine arts programs, especially in the elementary
>>where time and resources are often reallocated to reading and mathematics
>>to avoid embarrassing publicity in the newspapers about low test scores
>>in those disciplines.
>>Recent developments suggest, however, that the long-standing opposition
>>of arts educators to testing is breaking down. It now appears likely that
>>the next decade will see renewed interest in evaluation and assessment
>>in the arts. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which
>>included music and the visual arts in the 1970s, has developed plans to
>>include all four of the arts in 1997 if funding is available.(1) State
>>assessment programs have included the arts in a few states, though
>>authentic assessment in the arts is difficult and expensive, and there
>>are few models other than NAEP. The development of national standards for
>>arts education should lead to greater interest in testing in order to
>>the extent to which the standards have been achieved.(2)
>>So Why Do Teachers Feel Helpless?
>>Considering all of the influences affecting the four curricula, who really
>>controls the curriculum in the arts? The answer is clearly that teachers
>>do, more than anyone else. But if teachers control what is taught, then
>>why do they feel so helpless? Interviews with teachers show consistently
>>that, regardless of discipline, they believe that they lack authority,
>>that they are blamed for every alleged shortcoming of the schools, and
>>that they are endlessly buffeted about by forces they are powerless to
>>Since the school is the only institution that has universal access to
>>people aged from six to seventeen, any social problem affecting that age
>>group has, for decades, been assigned to the school to resolve. As society
>>has placed twelve pounds of social responsibilities in a six-pound school
>>day, it is no surprise that every few weeks the media carry accounts of
>>some alleged failure of the schools. The result is typically a new
>>(and sometimes statutory) pressure on teachers to accept some new
>>Much of the difficulty is inherent in the discrepancies among the four
>>curricula. If there are indeed four curricula, their very existence
>>teachers. Teachers instinctively seek to reconcile the four curricula,
>>but they are often keenly aware that they lack the time, materials, and
>>equipment to do the job. Sometimes they also lack the necessary teaching
>>skills. Further, the support systems available to teachers are by no means
>>adequate to the task.
>>Why Is It So Difficult To Change?
>>Generations of critics have asked why it is so difficult to change
>>in education. It is easier, they say, to move a cemetery than to change
>>a school. When the first curriculum changes, the second and third may not.
>>When the second curriculum changes, the third may not. And the third or
>>fourth may change even though neither of the others does. The four
>>seem to function almost entirely independently of one another.
>>The central difficulty is that there are so many individuals and groups
>>that influence the curriculum, and almost any one of the central players
>>can veto any systemic change. Many of these individuals and groups
>>firmly entrenched vested interests, and none wants to see their influence
>>eroded. Any change inevitably shifts the relative authority of the
>>groups, and for this reason, it is almost impossible to assemble
>>that will look beyond their own interests and demonstrate the
>>to support changes that will benefit the students or society in general.
>>Because their objectives differ, the various groups influencing the
>>often, either knowingly or unknowingly, undermine each other's positions.
>>All too frequently in recent years, reform-minded politicians, business
>>leaders, higher education groups, or others have set about to reform
>>by devising elegant solutions and seeking to impose them on teachers. That
>>approach has never worked in the past and will never work in the future.
>>Teachers must be involved from the beginning in efforts to reform
>>The Solution
>>What is the solution? The solution is for districts to hire only
>>teachers, give them the authority and responsibility that should accompany
>>professional status, and then let them do their jobs.
>>Schools treat their teachers as hired hands, not as professionals. No
>>professionals are so systematically restricted in the ways in which they
>>can exercise their professional judgment. No other professionals are
>>to the indignity of being reminded daily that they are not trusted, that
>>their competence is open to question, and that whenever possible their
>>behavior will be circumscribed by rules and regulations. No other
>>are routinely denied the time, materials, equipment, and facilities they
>>need to do their jobs. No other professionals would be asked to tolerate
>>what teachers tolerate.
>>These conditions are so humiliating and so stultifying that many bright
>>young people refuse to enter teaching, and many of our best teachers leave
>>after a few years. Politicians seem to think they can simply legislate
>>quality in education by passing a law requiring it. That is like trying
>>to eliminate crime by making it illegal. Too many reform proposals suggest
>>that teachers are a part of the problem. Teachers aren't part of the
>>they're part of the solution. They must be. If they aren't, then there
>>is no solution because there is no one else who can implement it.
>>Teachers deserve better salaries than they typically receive, though
>>are less important than working conditions. Teachers must be given
>>and responsibility comparable to that of other professionals. Teachers
>>typically have nothing to say about the standards for entry into their
>>profession and too little to say about the in-service professional
>>they receive. Many teachers cannot choose the textbooks they use. They
>>often have little or no voice in disciplinary matters. In one major city,
>>until recently teachers were required to punch time clocks when they came
>>to and left school] What kind of health care or legal systems would we
>>have if doctors or lawyers were subjected to such indignities?
>>Teachers need far more opportunities to interact with one another. They
>>need opportunities to design curricula, to plan evaluation programs, and
>>to discuss current issues. They need regular programs of in-service
>>development conducted by knowledgeable and experienced colleagues. They
>>need to be treated as professionals who are capable of exercising judgment
>>and not as interchangeable pawns whose every action must be monitored and
>>whose every decision must be made within tightly constrained limits
>>in advance by supervisors or legislators.
>>There should not be four curricula, there should be one. The official
>>should also be the curriculum that is taught, the curriculum that is
>>and the curriculum that is tested. It should be developed jointly by
>>and by representatives of the community. If designed exclusively by
>>the curriculum might be too esoteric, too professionally oriented, or too
>>heavily geared to the needs of the talented. If designed exclusively by
>>the community, the curriculum might lack depth and balance and might fail
>>to develop true competence. The advice and support of the community is
>>important, but the guidance of professional educators is essential, and
>>lay persons will usually defer to the judgment of teachers on professional
>>issues. One constructive result of the development of the national
>>for arts education was that it placed control of the arts education agenda
>>largely in the hands of arts educators.
>>U.S. education is based on a tradition of local control. It is not
>>with that principle to compress the present four curricula into one, to
>>base the curriculum on the outcomes described in the national standards,
>>to use nationally validated assessment instruments when available, to
>>to hire ill-prepared teachers, and to give teachers the authority and
>>that should accompany their professional status. In fact, establishing
>>a proper balance of curricular control among the various competing parties
>>requires precisely those actions.
>>1. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Arts Education
>>Framework (Washington, D.C.: National Assessment Governing Board, 1994).
>>2. Consortium of National Arts Education Associations (CNAEA), National
>>Standards for Arts Education (Reston, Va.: MENC, 1994).
>>Paul R. Lehman, professor of music and senior associate dean of the School
>>of Music at The University of Michigan, served as president of the Music
>>Educators National Conference from 1984 to 1986.