In the ever-changing landscape of public education, it appears that while some core elements remain unchanged, there is a relentless cycle of educational trends, assessment tools, and instructional materials that often create the illusion of progress. This constant state of flux, compounded by external factors such as the pandemic and political divisions, has sown uncertainty and anxiety among educators, families, and students. However, the root causes of this phenomenon go deeper.
The persistent alterations in educational standards, assessments, and practices have become the new normal. While these changes are purportedly aimed at improving educational outcomes and aligning with the latest research, we cannot ignore their detrimental impact on student learning. Often, these so-called "new" programs are merely repackaged or rebranded versions of past educational initiatives.
So, what drives this never-ending cycle of change?
Clearly, there is a troubling connection between these incessant changes and the financial interests of influential curriculum publishers. Furthermore, the education system's infatuation with trendy, short-term educational fads and the influence of higher education institutions exacerbate the issue. Lawmakers and school leaders champion these educational changes, forcing students, teachers, and school systems to invest significant time and resources in adaptation. This systemic instability results in accumulating learning gaps, and despite substantial investments in instructional materials and professional development, progress in student learning remains elusive.
Higher education is out of touch
At the high school level, testing and curriculum is often driven by attempts to align with college standards or entrance requirements. This perpetuates a "college for all" mentality at a time when available jobs and workforce demands favor technical training, trade programs, and apprenticeships. Moreover, college standards are evolving under pressure to adapt to declining enrollments and questions about their relevance in today's workplace. New testing formats, vocabulary, standards, and adaptive technologies only compound the problem by creating moving targets that hinder student success.
Curriculum publishers and their shareholders are the winners
In this landscape, curriculum publishers and their shareholders emerge as the primary beneficiaries. These influential publishers wield powerful lobbyists who shape policies and decisions at the state level, leading to constantly shifting standards that necessitate updated textbooks and resources, often promising more than they deliver. Subscription-based programs lock schools into escalating pricing structures, creating dependence on these programs while burdening school systems with financial constraints.
Educational "flavors of the month" perpetuate the problem
Educators are often drawn to the latest fad or rebranded strategy in the hope that it will magically address student needs and improve outcomes. However, annual investments of countless hours and millions of dollars in professional development have yielded minimal changes in student outcomes. New assessments, curriculum adoptions, and initiatives can divert attention from enhancing instructional practices based on real student needs, often amounting to little more than repackaged reforms from the past.
So, what is the path forward from here?
The interests of curriculum publishers, professional development providers, and higher education institutions often conflict with the best interests of students. To shift the focus back to students, I recommend the following changes:
- Implement a moratorium on changing assessments or standards for students at all levels, as this constant shifting is counterproductive.
- Abandon "one-shot" professional development and transient training in favor of focusing efforts on student outcomes and adapting instructional practices.
- De-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing and prioritize real-time strategies to monitor student progress, allowing for immediate instructional interventions and adjustments in practice.
- Reclaim local control over instructional decision-making, as state-level mandates fail to serve students effectively.
- Re-empower teachers with the skills to adjust and respond to the unique strengths, challenges, and needs of their students, reviving the lost art of teaching.
It's time to break free from the cycle of insanity in education and restore sanity to curriculum, assessment, and educational training. The influence of curriculum publishers in driving educational reform must be exposed, and schools must redirect their focus toward supporting teachers in delivering high-quality instruction tailored to individual student needs. While this is undoubtedly a challenging task, our students are relying on us. As educators, families, and students unite in the pursuit of a student-centered education, anything is possible.