Until today I was perhaps too naive in what I thought people outside education understood regarding curriculum and standards. I actually thought with all the news surrounding NCLB over the years and The Race to the Top and test score issues, the public actually understood what is a curriculum, what are standards and how teachers go about their business. So, I will try to elucidate items so the general, non education public can indeed have real discourse surrounding the correct topic(s) and not the ancillary pieces.
To begin, I will create a range of computer accessible URL’s for people to read and create a deeper understanding of the vocabulary I will be using. I do not believe I could do justice to the meaning of curriculum in a couple paragraphs considering I went to graduate school to study only science curriculum in a narrow vein. It is imperative for people to understand the broad scope of a curriculum and what it means in context.
standards http://www.doe.in.gov/asap/definitions.html , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outcome-based_education , http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309053269&page=22 (this is what I am most familiar with in the context of my education)
text book http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7ACAW_enUS367US367&&sa=X&ei=dUFYTILzBovmsQPDwLznCg&ved=0CAQQBSgA&q=define%3ATextbook&spell=1 , http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/textbook , http://www.answers.com/topic/textbook
A curriculum which is selected in a public school tends to have both breadth and depth. This means, as an example in math, students learn the meaning of numeracy, can apply the knowledge of how multiplication is short hand for repitive addition and explore the value of understanding exponential form in a curve in calculus. That sentence is broad merely in the relationship of numbers and their meaning. The depth depends upon the various uses of the numbers. Numeracy can be shallow in kindergarden and deep as the Mariana Trench in Graduate School. It is imperative that there is good understanding of numeracy and its applications across each grade level and in some respects age appropriateness, which varies greatly as all children learn at slightly different rates.
The standards by which students are judged (or more recently teachers) has to do with a students ability to both understand and apply mathematical concepts by grade level/age appropriate tasks (please read about Piaget for more detailed information on the difference of grade versus age issues) as shown in a variety of tools of demonstration – tests, projects, etc. A minimum standard of proficiency is in a round about way a qualitative measure of a students ability to move to the next concept/application of knowledge. Sadly to the public, knowledge and learning are not linear. Students have a-ha moments all the time (even teachers) when we think about an idea/concept in a new way (creativity). Due to this issue, standards are a quantitative registration of what is generally agreed upon by professional educators as an ability/skill a student can adequately perform at a specific age/grade and move on to something more complex. It is at best an imprecise measure as it is a bit like pulling a carrot out of the soil, stating it is growing but not knowing how much potential is left and no way to measure how the seed (considering the myriad environmental factors) will grow to full form, if it will grow to an edible food or if environmental factors will render it something to be plowed under (sorry to be so graphic).
A text book is a TOOL for teaching. A text book works on the idea of putting specific curricular ideas in an order (which may or may not be palatable to a particular learning style), giving sets of idea explorations which are supposed to be age/grade appropriate and provide tests with a minimum standard of understanding so the student and teacher know when it is time to move on to the next concept. A text book is NOT A CURRICULUM. With the aforementioned in mind, only new and/or inexperienced teachers use a text book as the ‘curriculum’.
Experienced teachers will have either a classroom library with 20 ways until Sunday to explain an idea/concept, know another 10 ways until Sunday to demonstrate the idea/concept (and be willing to learn more – professional development). Experienced teachers see the text book as one tool among many to assist students in learning to a minimum standard of understanding. Experienced teachers go to places such as RAFT (www.RAFT.net) to learn how to get past only 10 ways of demonstrating an idea/concept. Experienced teachers are perpetually learning (hence, lifelong learners) as they seek to find a new way to assist their students in the development of understanding.
When I read comments, such as those in The San Francisco Chronicle, I am shocked at the mixed up nature of what people are talking about. This helps me understand how the public does not understand the process and is unable to engage in ways to change the process. It points out all the misconceptions surrounding what happens in a classroom and why people are so willing to castigate teachers for problems.
I encourage all of you to please read up on the process of education. When you are better informed, your comments will speak to the point of what needs to be changed.