Archives for category: Curriculum

Marion Brady is an educator who has argued for many years that subject-matter based curriculum is wrong. He thinks we need to change our ingrained ways of thinking. He asks for your advice:

Brady writes:

In 1966, the Phi Delta Kappan published an article of mine criticizing the traditional “core” curriculum adopted in 1893 that organizes most of the middle school and high school day. I suggested an alternative organizer. 

In many more journal articles, in books published by respected presses, in chapters in others’ books, in nationally distributed op-eds and newspaper columns and in countless internet blogs, I’ve continued to argue that the core curriculum is the major academic reason for generation after generation of basically flat academic performance, and that a simple, cost-free “fix” for the problem has revolutionary potential.

Pushing back on my contention—at least for the last 25 or 30 years—is a corporately engineered campaign to privatize public schooling without triggering the public debate such a radical change in the bedrock of democracydeserves. That campaign’s wrong assumptions—that the core curriculum provides a “well-rounded” education, that competition is the main motivator of performance, that standardized tests measure what’s important, that rigor must replace “low expectations,” and teachers are the key to improving the institution—lock even more rigidly in place a 19th Century curriculum.

What’s wrong with the core?

There are eighteen items on my list of problems with the core and the way it’s usually taught. For brevity’s sake I’ll address only one of them—the one noted by dozens of well-known and respected thinkers and studies conducted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Association of American Colleges.

That #1 problem: The world the core curriculum is supposed to explain is systemically integrated. The core curriculum is not.

In his 1916 Presidential Address to the MathematicalAssociation of England, philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead put it in simpler words. He said the curriculum’s “disconnection of subjects” was “fatal.”

He was right. Wikipedia explains the failure to react appropriately to that information:

The boiling frog is an apologue describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

To see examples of how that works out in human affairs, follow any randomly chosen day’s news.

An alternative

Given institutional inertia, educating’s inherent complexity, machine-scored standardized testing, multi-layered education bureaucracies and education policy made by non-educators in Congress and state legislatures, the core curriculum can’t be dislodged. It can, however, be used in non-traditional ways that circumvent the core’s most serious problems.

The core organizes the study of a mix of math, science, language arts and social studies subjects. What learners need that the core doesn’t provide is an “organizer of organizers” that shows not just how all school subjects but all fields of knowledge fit together and interact to create a whole much greater than the sum of parts. Lacking that master organizer, a few schools use interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies and project learning, but those can’t be standardized to create the “subjects” that education bureaucracies require.

An organizer of organizers

Fortunately, an organizer of organizers doesn’t have to be invented or developed. All normal humans are born with brains that do that in the manner of the group or society within which individuals have been socialized. To solve most of the core’s problems, that master organizer just needs to be lifted into consciousness and put to useful work, something all adolescents are able to do.

Our organizer of organizers is easily understood. When attention is fixed on a matter of interest, five kinds of information integrate systemically to create sense—the same five kinds of information that structure languages, stories, drama, reports, textbooks, school subjects,conversation and so on: Time. Place. Actors. Action. Cause.

Instructional activities that allow learners to discover for themselves the knowledge-creating process and put it to work, move them to levels of academic performance far beyond the evaluating capabilities of standardized tests, and do so with an efficiency that allows the legitimate aims of a general education to be met in a fraction of the time spent on “covering the content” of the core curriculum.

The most legitimate aim of education is saving humankind. Reality is dynamic. Inexorable environmental, demographic, technological and social change create ever-more complex problems requiring new knowledge. New knowledge is created by the discovery of relationships between and among things not previously thought to relate—a newborn’s fussing and the appearance of a nipple; cigarettes and cancer; moon and tides; justice and societal stability; time and space.

New knowledge is essential, but even more crucial is an increase in depth and breadth of understanding ofcomplex reality by the general public. This is the ultimategoal of what we’re doing.


About a year after publication of the 1966 Kappan article, James Guiher, Vice-President of Prentice-Hall’s Educational Books Division, called. Could he and P-H’s Head K-12 Editor, Mike McDanield, come to Florida to talk?

Long story, short: They came, starting a long-running conversation ending with a project to produce a middle school-level American history textbook and a world cultures textbook consistent with my thinking.

“Rich” concepts (e.g. cultural assumptions, value conflict, social control, polarization, cultural interaction, system change, and so on) organized several weeks of study for each concept. Prentice-Hall’s college-level history and anthropology authors provided unique and engaging primary data for the concepts, and my brother and I wrote instructional activities using their data.

Traditional schooling emphasizes and rewards passive learner recall of information. The P-H project’s primary sources required learners to hypothesize, infer, value, extrapolate, correlate, imagine, synthesize, predict, estimate, generalize, and so on—exercise the dozens of cognitive processes that make routine human functioning possible and enable civilized life.

Every unit culminated with activities requiring learners to apply the concept to contemporary matters.

P-H’s marketing department printed and distributed the activities to middle school teachers nationwide and invited them to write reports about how the activities worked (or didn’t) and send them to inhouse P-H editors.

At the end of each semester, eight teachers whose reports seemed most perceptive were identified, P-H paid for their substitutes for a week, and flew them and us to a resort somewhere to rework, refine, and replace activities.

Thirty-nine middle school teachers participated.

The books were ready for publication in 1976, but a back-to-basics reaction to what’s now called “constructivist learning” prompted P-H’s marketing department to shelve the project, then change its mind and do a small press run in 1977 with no advertising or follow-up promotion.

End of project.

I know of no other curriculum development project that matches in thoroughness our effort to combine what are generally considered “best practices:” (1) A focus on powerful concepts. (2) Deliberate use of learners’ already-known, simple, comprehensive, natural information organizers. (3) Active use of learner firsthand, immediate, real-world experience. (4) Small-group cooperative learning to minimize threat and encourage “thinking out loud.” (5) Intellectually challenging but interesting, unfamiliar primary sources. (6) Correct modeling of the holistic, systemically integrated nature of reality. (7) Extensive writing and illustrating requirements. (8) Traditional schooling’s emphasis on two thought processes—recalling and applying—replaced by work requiring learners to use a full range of thought processes.

Salvage operation

Watching the destructive chaos created by amateur education reformers, ideologues and privatizers, prompted us to ask P-H about copyrights for the instructional materials we’d created.

They gave them to us in May 1990. We updated and reformatted the lessons to adapt them to the internet, put them online, downloadable free of cost or other obligation, and invited users to suggest improvements.

We’ve added instructional materials for general systems theory, world history, civics and science. That’s at odds with our belief that the general knowledge component of the curriculum should be a single, comprehensive course of study systemically integrating all fields of knowledge, with specialized course offerings expanded and offered as electives. However, recognizing resistance to change and existing bureaucratic boundaries and expectations, we’ve used traditional subjects in non-traditional ways to encourage acceptance and use of systemic conceptions of reality.

Notwithstanding the fact that our instructional activities require thought processes too complex to be evaluated by standardized tests, files routinely download by the hundreds weekly without a dime spent on advertising. If officials would remove the artificial performance ceiling created by the limitations of standardized testing and accompany academic work with exercises to improve classroom culture, we believe the ability of the young to cope with the messes they’re inheriting will be maximized.

Request for Advice

I’ll be 95 years old in May. My brother, Howard, 86. We’d like to donate our work—free of cost or other obligation—to an institution, organization or other entity on condition they create a suitable website, keep the activities downloadable and free for teachers to use with their own students, and encourage their continuous improvement, including across cultural boundaries.

If you a have suggestions for contacts who might be willing to talk about accepting what we’re offering, we’d really appreciate hearing from you.




My SUNY Press book, What’s Worth Teaching? Selecting, Organizing, and Integrating Knowledge, was published in 1989 and co-published by Books for Educators. The link below is to a pre-publication review by Philip L. Smith, Editor of the SUNY Press series of books Philosophy of Education. Smith is now Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University.

A revised version titled What’s Worth Learning? published by Information Age Publishing, is now free for downloading:

Links to illustrative instructional activities:

Peter Greene describes his latest gambit. He is pressing for the adoption of his “Stop WOKE” act.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doing his level best to wreck education in his state by politicizing every education policy. It’s a textbook illustration of fear-mongering and race-baiting. How low can he go without scraping his head on the ground?

Greene writes:

Florida owns the Number One spot on the Public Education Hostility Index, but Governor Ron DeSantis is not willing to rest on his laurels. You may have already heard about this, or you may have passed over the news because it’s Florida, but some bad news needs to be repeated, particularly when it comes from the state that launches so many of the bad trends in education.

DeSantis has borrowed from Texas, where a new abortion banhas come up with a clever way to circumvent rules about what a state can and cannot enforce. Now upheld by SCOTUS, the law makes every citizen a bounty hunter, with the right for “anyone to sue anyone” suspected of being in any way involved in an abortion (in a rare display to restraint, Texas exempts the woman getting the abortion from the civil liability). 

The idea of insulating the state is not new to education privatization efforts. Part of the reasoning behind education savings accounts is that it let’s the state say, “What? We didn’t give taxpayer dollars to a private religious institution. We just gave the money to a scholarship organization (and they gave it to the private religious school). Totally not a First Amendment violation.”

So here comes DeSantis with his “Stop WOKE Act” (as in “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees”– some staffer was up late working on that one). This is legislation he’ll “push for” because of course a governor doesn’t propose legislation–he just orders it up from his party in the legislature. 

The proposal comes wrapped in lots of rhetoric about the evils of “critical race theory,” which DeSantis defines broadly and bluntly: Nobody wants this crap, OK? This is an elite-driven phenomenon being driven by bureaucratic elites, elites in universities and elites in corporate America and they’re trying to shove it down the throats of the American people. You’re not doing that in the state of Florida.

Along with vague rhetoric about learning to hate America, DeSantis brought in crt panic shill Christopher Rufo for his pep rally. And of course he trotted out some highly selective Martin Luther King Jr. quotage, because, hey, he’s totally not racist.

But the highlight here is creating a “private right of action” for parents, an actual alleged civil rights violation. Anyone who thinks their kid is being taught critical race theory can sue (and this will apply to workplace training as well). Parents who win even get to collect attorney’s fees, meaning they can float these damn lawsuits essentially for free– watch for Florida’s version of Edgar Snyder--attorneys advertising “there’s no charge unless we get money for you.”

Allowing parents to file lawsuits would have the effect of making the operating definition of crt even vaguer–it’s whatever Pat and Sam’s mom thinks it is. You can say that using a bad definition that loses the lawsuit would limit this vaguery, but that misses the point–the school would still have to defend itself in court, costing money and time…

Open the link and read the rest.

Greene predicts that teachers will not feel free to teach about America’s racist past. I agree with him.

A few nights ago, I watched a PBS documentary about the life of Marian Anderson, who was hailed in her lifetime as one of the greatest singers in the world. She toured the capitals of Europe to great acclaim. Yet for most of her life, she sang to racially segregated audiences in the United States. The documentary showed that Hitler admired America’s segregationist laws and practices and saw them as a model. Today, those who remember Anderson’s name know her as the black woman whom the DAR (Daughters of the Revolution) prohibited from performing in Constitution Hall in 1939, D.C.’s premier concert hall. D.C. was rigidly segregated. Instead she sang at the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000 people. Her opening number was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

I expect that no teacher in Florida would show that documentary in class. It may be factual, but some students’ parents would complain and sue the teacher for exposing their children to CRT.

Mother’s first class, around 1950, at Skabersjöskolan, where I myself also went to school.

A friend in Sweden sent this article via Twitter. It was written by Jenny Maria Nilsson. I went to Google and asked for a translation from Swedish to English. Sweden is even farther down the road to privatization than we are. A conservative government in the early 1990s opened the way to public funding of independent schools, many of which operate for profit.

She writes:

The goal for primary school is not millions of different things but first and foremost education. If that goal is achieved, it certainly also provides other things: life opportunities, education and freedom, social interaction, a place for children to be and so on, but the school’s goal is teaching a basic curriculum.

In the book about the digitalisation of the Swedish school, which I have contributed to, I write: “What is the school’s task? To be a marketplace for all kinds of commerce, an arena for the edtech industry, a pseudo-market for welfare entrepreneurs and consultants, an advertising opportunity for municipalities, schools and individual teachers, a leisure center where children can thrive while parents are at work, an institution that organizes social support, a place where educators are responsible for identifying and developing great talent, an organization that will kick-start your child’s career, rank your child and let it make contacts with others in its social group, a place for admiration and curling of young people or vice versa a place where you put children in place and so on. ”

Tax-financed primary school is none of this but a “room” organized by us where previous generations through teachers and other school staff strive to convey the basic practical and theoretical knowledge that has been accumulated in various fields. The goal often seems to me to be distorted, the school system has increasingly been characterized by what I call the era of panic, where more people are looking for things that have nothing to do at school. The school has become a means for various special interests rather than a goal in itself.

To leave the era of panic, we need to navigate an era where school and school institutions and administration can maintain integrity. An era where the school is a cohesive unit that honors its knowledge and education mission – what I call the era of the monolith.

The Commack Public School District is located on Long Island in New York. The district has about 79% white students, 9% Asian, 9% Hispanic, 1% African American, and a small number of multiracial students. The Commack public schools have strong academic outcomes. 95% of their graduates go to college.

Recently the district and its school board have been under attack by parents who insist that their children are subjected to Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project. At a recent public hearing, parents listened to administrators and school board members, who assured them that the Commack schools did not teach CRT or The 1619 Project. Angry parents were not mollified, as you will see if you watch the video posted below.

Jake Jacobs, a NYC art teacher and co-administrator of the New York BATS, watched the video and wrote the following commentary.

CRT DEBATE BLOWS UP: In Commack, NY this school board forum shows how insane things have gotten. The audience comments are unhinged and mostly ignore everything the board and superintendent say. The first part of the video is just the staff going over the curriculum, explaining how they do not support CRT, but the parents already start interrupting and shouting.

The Commack board and superintendent said over and over they reject CRT and created a policy where no child feels “less than”.
Yet parents came up to the mic and accused them of lying, said CRT was “seeping in” and were convinced the state is going to impose CRT, that teachers were politically biased and only teach their side.
They pointed to board members and said they are all going to get voted out, just like they had in the neighboring district. Some parents came up gripped with anger, convinced that everything they didn’t like was indeed CRT, and that it has to be nipped in the bud before this can go any further.

Some spoke about their kids being bullied because they were conservative, or cops being negatively portrayed, they quoted MLK as not seeing skin color and they spoke about inappropriate images and themes in the book Persepolis, none of which were CRT.
Some speakers got on the mic screaming at the top of their lungs, accusing the schools of indoctrinating kids to hate, or threatened to put their kids in private school and sue for damages. One woman pointed repeatedly to the only Black trustee and said she “had something on him.”

Meanwhile, some brave Asian students got up and said they loved Persepolis, an award winning graphic novel taught in the district for 13 years. They noted it was the first time they saw themselves reflected in class readings and that the district has a severe lack of representation of diverse characters and authors. The students were constantly interrupted and badgered. One girl pointed that there were also graphic themes in Romeo and Juliet, Tale of Two Cities and To Kill a Mockingbird. A teacher who spoke in support of the students was also interrupted constantly and heckled.

One outraged NYPD officer got up and read a bullet point from the NY State Education Dept web page on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion which suggests schools cover “the senseless, brutal killing of Black and Brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement.” The Commack superintendent immediately took his side and disavowed the passage as inappropriate, promising cops would not be disparaged in the district, but the folks in the crowd wanted more.
They asked for apologies to police families, they asked for something in writing that CRT would not be taught even if the state mandates it, they wanted to know if teachers would be fired for political statements, they wanted to be notified when BLM will be mentioned in school so they can opt out. Some said schools should only be teaching math, reading, science and social studies and leave all the social-emotional and diversity stuff for parents to teach.

I don’t know if this was just a very loud minority or this is the prevailing view in this part of Long Island but these folks are 100% convinced that everything they don’t like is “CRT” and they are extremely animated, just like Christopher Rufo said. They said it is Socialism and Marxism and some got extremely emotional saying they need to hear the district will fight for their kids.

This is light years from what’s going on in NYC schools and the new Culturally Responsive framework approved by the Chancellor which centers racial, cultural and gender identity in the classroom, so this is a major clash of opposing ideas (fueled by wholesale misinformation) and it’s working really well in suburban areas to put school officials on the defensive and kids in the middle of electoral politics.

One day after he stood against removing Persepolis, the Commack English Dept Chair was removed from his position and stripped of tenure. The district also now has removed Diary of Anne Frank as well.

Click on this link to see the video:

Full video:

This one works too:

Jane Nylund is a parent activist and educator in Oakland.

She writes:

A bit of background: we are a family of two kids through OUSD, nearly 20 years with the district. Strong foundation in math and science, and some experience with statistics. As a classified educator in a high-needs school, I have recently spent time proctoring the I-Ready diagnostic in my fourth grade class. Out of concern for my math group, who all had pained looks on their faces, I was able to view some of the math test questions.

I was appalled at what I saw. Yes, I know the test is supposed to be adaptive, but the material that they expected the kids to try and answer was 6th grade level math, possibly higher. I noted the following:

1) Multi-step unit conversions in the context of a word problem2) Definitions/examples of independent and dependent variables3) Simplification of algebraic equations with two variables.

These types of questions appeared around the 15% test completion point for one student. It’s possible that there was some kind of operator error on the teacher’s part and that’s why these types of math problems showed up on the diagnostic. Nevertheless, the idea of creating a diagnostic that is essentially designed so that the kids fail 50% of the questions is a problem.

I could go on and on about how wrong this is and why this diagnostic test is completely unnecessary for our kids to suffer through. It almost seems like none of the adults in the decision-making process bothered to take it themselves. And if they did, and still thought this was all reasonable for students who are still learning math facts and long division, they have no business working around kids.

What I’m more interested in is how our district decided that I-Ready should be a thing. Did they just read the marketing and hype and just go along with it? Did they bother to check the “studies”, most of which were commissioned by Curriculum Associates (CA)? None of which were peer-reviewed. Or was it just an off-the-shelf substitution for the SBAC, like buying a box of cereal?

Anecdotally, I heard the Rainin Foundation provided funding for the project. It also turns out that the board voted on an item on the Consent Agenda that allows the district to share our kids’ I-Ready data with Johns Hopkins for a study; only two districts are part of the study. Why? And why Oakland? I’ll get to that. The Rainin Foundation contracts out with a consulting firm calledBridgespan. They, in turn, make all kinds of ed reform-based recommendations to their clients. So, it’s possible that Bridgespan, Rainin Foundation, and OUSD were working in tandem somehow to recommend I-Ready. Rainin agrees to fund it, and Johns Hopkins is gleefully rubbing their hands together at all the data they will capture. The district is notorious for never turning down a free data lunch, even if it’s an I-Ready garbage sandwich. It’s what they do.

What’s the feedback around I-Ready? Across the board, nearly everyone despises it: teachers, students, families. Who loves it? None other than Jeb Bush of Foundation for Excellence in Education. Yeah, that guy. Is this the same path that we should be heading down with yet another ed-tech privatization tool that just makes money for Curriculum Associates? Should we really be emulating what they are doing and supporting in Florida, a hotbed of dubious ed reform, profiteering, and graft? After an entire year of screen time, should we be supporting an ed-tech industry product that makes a fortune off the very thing that we have said is bad for our kids, even more testing and screen time? In typical ed-tech fashion, what our district is allowing them to do is collect our kids’ data for free, then later sell a product back to OUSD to get our kids to “improve” their achievement. At the same time, the I-Ready team will likely find that their products/services neatly dovetail into the brand-new residual gain growth model that the SBE has just approved. Yet another golden opportunity sought after by Curriculum Associates and I-Ready. Oakland has now become the perfect market for an educational tool that serves no purpose other than to punish and demoralize our children, waste our teachers’ time, demean the teaching profession, and make big bucks for Curriculum Associates.

Here’s my favorite part. According to the literature (See one “independent” study here), which students perform better on I-Ready? The ones who are already performing at a high level. Wow, there’s a prediction. Who would have thought? Apparently, high-achieving kids are willing to stick with it longer because they don’t fail the program’s adaptive algorithm right away. So it’s not quite as miserable an experience for them. In addition, there is no longitudinal peer-reviewed data showing the effectiveness of I-Ready on achievement. The referenced study (WestEd, funded by Gates and Silicon Valley Education Foundation) had no randomized test design, just for starters and there’s no way to show causation.

What’s the end game? Are the students going to be subjected to the IAB, ELPAC, SBAC, and now I-Ready? By the way, the program is so universally despised that our smart young people have figured out how to hack into the program to add time to the lessons so they can quit the program sooner. According to one Reddit user, “finally, the suffering is over”.

Another quote from an actual user: “As a student required to use this program twice a week before the quarantine and an hour a week during, this is an issue. The program has specific and bizarre questions with very broad categories and overall fails to teach anything, as students are turned off from engaging due to the sheer amount of frustration that it is caused from the lack of sensible instruction. It absolutely fails to properly give students the right lesson. I am a 7th grader in 9th grade math, however it gives me and many students 5th and 6th grade math, some students have had basic division and multiplication despite their actual math abilities. I give my full advocation and so does my boyfriend and all of my friends to the removal of this harmful and unhelpful program.”

Another example:

“FCPS (Fairfax County Public Schools, Florida) defends critique of the iReady assessment by asserting that teachers should use iReady as a screener to identify students “at risk,” not as a diagnostic assessment. I think this defense wears thin when schools begin to use iReady assessment data as a measure of growth on their School Improvement Plans. I think this defense wears thin when schools print out the reports and use them to sort and label children for intervention in data dialogue meetings. “

This author nailed it. What is supposed to be a diagnostic tool will be mislabeled and misused as a tool to “measure” achievement. News flash, we already have a flawed standardized test to “measure” achievement and we don’t need another. All this is also predicated on the usual idea that teachers have absolutely no clue how their kids are doing in class even though they are with their students for hours at a time, you know, teaching. I’ve already seen charter schools use I-Ready to boast of their superior “achievement” on social media. Charters aren’t using it as a diagnostic tool. They are using it as a marketing tool.

This author wrote an extremely well-researched piece on how I-Ready and other programs like it are all tied into privatization and profiteering. It’s a long read, but it really sums up all that is wrong with this kind of educational climate that promotes tech over experienced teachers and our willingness to be participants in its many forms, while sacrificing any real hope of authentic improvement.

Finally, Curriculum Associates will embrace all that tasty Johns Hopkins data from our kids to sell their brand of misery to other unsuspecting districts. Our children have experienced enough “rigor” in their everyday existence this past year. They don’t need another ed-tech company treating them like lab rats and preying upon them for the almighty dollar. Just stop it, I-Ready. We’ve had enough. Do the right thing and cancel the contract with Johns Hopkins. That would be a move in the right direction. Thanks for listening.

Marion Brady is a progressive educator who has never given up the fight to make education a lively and engaging experience.

He wrote the following to me:

Diane,The courses of study I give away were developed for Prentice-Hall over a period of seven years, working with dozens of middle school teachers nationwide. They taught every lesson, providing feedback and suggestions, and those that P-H thought were most insightful were brought together for a week at the end of every semester to go over final versions. 
P-H shelved it and gave me copyrights when the marketing department concluded that Phyllis Schafley’s claim that departures from tradition were a slippery slope to communism.
Since my brother and I put them online and free, downloads of files range from 600 to 1600 per week without a dime to advertise. 
Standardized testing is the major obstacle to acceptance.I’ve double-checked the links. They’re important.
Thanks much for all you do.


Salvaging public schooling

By Marion Brady

Public schooling should be the bedrock of democracy, but the institution’s failure to produce a citizenry more resistant to authoritarianism and fantastical conspiracy theories is surely evidence of a serious institutional problem. 

Unfortunately, it’s also a problem that most schools are poorly equipped to address. It has to do with what learners think and, with one exception, traditional schooling’s interest in what learners think is minimal. 

That exception: How much of the “core” curriculum’s standardized, secondhand information can kids stuff into short-term memory long enough to pass a test?

Good teachers do good things with the subjects in the core curriculum, but no mix of traditional school subjects will produce learners or a citizenry with sufficient intellectual depth and breadth to support democracy, societal stability, and the fresh thinking required by the accelerating rate of social change.     

Think I’m wrong?

Rethinking the core 

Woodrow Wilson said that changing the curriculum is harder than moving a cemetery. He was right, but the curriculum is where the rubber meets the road in schooling, and for general education purposes, the core curriculum’s failure to model reality systemically and holistically creates a fatal vulnerability.

The brain seeks order, organization, pattern, regularity, connections, relationships, wholeness. The core gives it a hodge-podge of disconnected subjects with differing aims, incompatible conceptual frameworks, specialized vocabularies, myriad abstractions and dissimilar methodologies, all at odds with both the integrated nature of the world that schooling is supposed to explain and the way our brains organize information to create sense and meaning.

A couple of paragraphs from a column I wrote twenty or so years ago for Knight-Ridder/Tribune newspapers for a series called “Rethinking Schools” illustrates why the core’s standalone subjects can’t do the job that needs doing.  

“We want a pair of socks. Those available have been knitted in a Third World country. Power to run the knitting machines is supplied by burning fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Global warming alters weather patterns. Altered weather patterns trigger environmental catastrophes. Environmental catastrophes destroy infrastructure. Money spent for infrastructure replacement isn’t available for health care. Declines in the quality of health care affect mortality rates. Mortality is a matter of life and death. Buying socks, then, is a matter of life and death.

“Making detailed sense of this simple cause-effect sequence requires not only some understanding of marketing, physics, chemistry, meteorology, economics, engineering, psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science and a couple of other fields not usually taught in middle or high schools, it requires an understanding of how fields fit together and interact.”

Planet Earth is on an unsustainable path largely of humankind’s choosing. The accelerating rate of environmental, demographic and technological change is creating problems with no known solutions. If our children and our children’s children are to have more than a snowball’s chance in hell of coping with the world they’re inheriting, they need more than a curriculum based on the Common Core Standards or similar knowledge-fragmenting curricula can give them.  

Curricular change 

Fortunately, a general education discipline that welds not only the core subjects but all present and future school subjects into working parts of a single, comprehensive, integrated, easily understood and used structure of knowledge doesn’t have to be invented. It already exists, is in universal use, teaches at rates unmatched by any other approach, costs nothing to adopt, and fits inside present bureaucratic boundaries and expectations. 

Every reader of these words began using that discipline’s major organizers at birth and developed them to sophisticated levels long before reaching school age. 

We’re born hungry. We fuss and a nipple with nourishment appears, introducing the thought process that, radically elaborated by lived experience and appropriate schooling, will teach us most of what we’ll learn for the rest of our lives. 

That thought process? Not recalling information, but relating it.


Knowledge expands as relationships are discovered between and among aspects of reality not previously thought to relate—nipples relate to fussing, tides relate to moon, societal stability relates to trust, peace relates to justice, time relates to space. 

The relating process that teaches so much so rapidly and efficiently has five elements rooted in the questions where, when, who, what, why? When we focus attention on a particular matter, we (1) locate it in space, (2) establish time parameters, (3) identify relevant actors or objects, (4) describe action, and (5) assume or postulate the action’s cause. The five, integrated systemically, create sense, meaning, “stories,” knowledge, understanding.   

Because all fields of study are elaborations of answers to the five questions, and because (when focused on a particular matter) the questions integrate systemically, all knowledge integrates systemically, maximizing the knowledge-creating relating process.

And humankind’s chances of survival.

Institutional transformation

Do this: Switch middle and high schooling’s primary focus from learner ability to recall secondhand information, to learner ability to relate information. Engineer “deep” understanding by requiring adolescents to discover the relating process for themselves via “active learning”—engaging in activities that help them lift the relating process into consciousness and put it to intellectually challenging use.* Do that, and the young will move to levels of academic performance not now possible, levels so far beyond the reach of machine-scored standardized tests their inability to evaluate complex thought will be obvious. 

I know this to be true beyond a shadow of doubt from leading a seven-year-long nationwide project involving dozens of middle school teachers working with kids of every level of ability. The project was cut short by the reactionary “back to basics” fad, followed by “standards and accountability” and high-stakes testing.  

Using scores on tests of recalled core curriculum content to shape education policy doesn’t just invite societal suicide, it assures it.


*The links below access FREE—no strings, no advertising, no obligations—materials supporting and implementing the above. 

· What’s Worth Learning? Small, jargon-free e-book elaborating the above. Read a review:  

· Courses of study written for middle school and older learners—
An introduction to systems thinkingAmerican historycivicsworld historyworld cultures. (Free for teachers/mentors for use with their own learners:)

· Provision for user dialogue to encourage continuous improvement of lessons; other books, articles, op-eds, blogs.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, is a dogged researcher who uncovers the mysteries of privatization and the education industry. In this post, he responds to a parent who asked him about an organization that was providing free airfare for her school district’s leaders. He was on the case.

He begins:

A North Carolina resident asked “what do you know about the Urban Collaborative?” She was concerned about a company providing free airfare to school leaders in her child’s district; airfare to meetings in far-off cities. She wondered, “What is their motive? Is it more about money and power than special education?”

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative was founded by Dr. David Riley, Educational Co-Chair of the Summer Institute on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Riley was the Executive Director of the Collaborative until he succumbed to cancerMay 2, 2016. The Collaborative is a national network of education administrators responsible for youth with disabilities in urban school districts. It is a national version of the Massachusetts Urban Project, a state-wide network that Dr. Riley founded in 1979. In 1994, The Education Development Center (EDC) expanded the Urban Collaborative into a national organization.

Ultican then goes on to describe the history of the organizations and their collaborations with a foray into changes in the physics curriculum.

EDC once had noble ambitions and accomplishments:

In the early years, the EDC was an organization making liberal ideology a reality. They developed a science curriculum specifically for the realities of Africa. They led a consortium of U.S. universities in founding the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. The EDC produced educational TV shows noteworthy for their African American and Latino casts. They engaged in educating village health workers in Mali.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, EDC seems to have become distracted by power and money while it dove into education technology.

And then, oh my, money and power begin to change things.

He concludes:

The relationships that Urban Collaborative fosters and the curricular development activities at EDC may have value. But sadly, these organizations have been corrupted by billionaire dollars and the lust for national prominence. They have lost their focus on improving public education and have become power players in the world of corporate education reform.

I recently received a copy of Hillary Clinton’s policy book, assembled for her by her most trusted advisors in 2014. This policy book was released in 2016 by Wikileaks after it hacked into John Podesta’s emails. The education section begins on page 156. Clinton’s lead education advisor was Ann O’Leary, who is now chief of staff to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Let me say at the outset that if I had read this brief before the 20116 election, I would have been disappointed and disheartened, but I still would have voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump. Despite my disagreement with her education advisors and plans, she was still 100 billion times better than Trump. Maybe 100 zillion times better.

Her education advisors came right out of the Bush-Obama bipartisan consensus that brought up No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core. The brief tells us that this wing of the Democratic party, which was in the ascendancy during the Obama administration, is an obstacle to improving American education. After thirty years of promoting charter schools and billions of dollars spent increasing their number, it is obvious that they are not a source of innovation, transparency, or accountability. The charter sector is a problem, not a solution. They have not brought great ideas to public schools; instead they compete with public schools for students and resources. Anyone who is serious about education must consider ways to help and support students, teachers, and communities, not promote schemes of uneven value that have opened the public purse to profiteers, entrepreneurs, religious zealots, and corporate chains.

What the brief teaches us is that the Democratic party is split between those who are still wedded to the failed bipartisan agenda that runs from Reagan to Clinton and those who understand that the Democratic party should commit itself to equity and a strong public school system that serves all children.

The education section of the policy brief makes for sobering reading. (It begins on page 163.) O’Leary wrote the education section of the policy brief. Among the “experts” cited are billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed of the Eli Broad Foundation. Among the policy papers is a statement by Jeb Bush’s spokesperson Patricia Levesque, recommending Jeb’s horrible ideas.

To sum up the recommendations:

  1. The brief lauds charter schools as a solution to the nation’s low academic performance (only a year earlier, CREDO had released a report saying that only one of every five charter schools outperforms public schools).
  2. The brief excoriates colleges of education and their graduates. It calls for Clinton to “professionalize teaching” by embracing TFA. TFA is likened to Finland as a model for finding excellent teachers. The brief does not mention that Finland would never admit teachers who had only five weeks of training into their classrooms. Every teacher in Finland goes through a multi-year rigorous program of preparation.
  3. The brief contends that tests should be “better and fewer” but should not be abandoned. Jeb Bush and Florida are cited as a model.
  4. The brief says: Don’t shy away from equity issues: While the root cause on inequity in our schools is still disputed – with reformers focused on the in-school availability of good teachers, good curriculum and rigorous course offerings and the unions focused on the challenges faced by teachers who are asked to find solutions to problems that stem from poverty and dysfunction in the community – there is an agreement that our public school system is one of the root causes of income inequality in our country, and that you should not be shy about calling it out and demanding we work to fix the inequities inside and outside the school building. [sic]
  5. Support the Common Core standards, which were already so toxic that they helped to sink Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. The brief says: Stand Up for the Common Core. There is strong agreement that we need high academic standards in our public school system and that the Common Core will help us to be more globally competitive. There is recognition, however, that the implementation of Common Core and the interaction with the testing regime has made many supporters nervous (including Randi Weingarten). However, all agree that you must stand for common core while working on the real challenges of how to implement it in a way that supports teachers. 
  6. The brief holds up New Orleans as a dramatic success, when in fact its greatest achievements were busting the teachers’ union, firing the entire teacher force (most of whom were African American, and turning public schools over to charter operators. We now know that about half of the charter schools in New Orleans are considered “failing schools” (ranked D or F) by the state’s own metrics, and that New Orleans is a school district whose scores are below the state average, in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. Hardly the “success” that should be hailed as a model for the nation.

Ann O’Leary interviewed Laurene Powell Jobs as an “expert” on education. One of Jobs’ strong recommendations is to reconsider the value of for-profit entrepreneurs.

Instead of just looking at the deficits of these schools, consider it a huge opportunity for transforming learning. Beginning to see some of this work in Udacity, Coursera – and we should be doing more of making the best in technology available to support students in getting skills and credentials they need. 

More from education expert Mrs. Jobs:

Re-Design entire K-12 system – know how to do it, but it comes down to political will. Public schools are a huge government program that we need to work brilliantly b/c it could change everything and be the thing that reduces income inequality; but we are stuck in system right now 

 Think about Charters as our R&D – only 5% of public schools still – MUST infuse ideas into the public school system, it is the only way – must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable; take away categorical funding, allow them to experiment and thrive 

 Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline – if Ed schools could be rigorous, highly esteemed, and truly selective like TFA and Finland, we’d see a different kind of teaching profession that would be elevated. Right now we have mediocre students become teachers in our classrooms; 

 Need transformation in our pipeline – Ed Schools should be like Med Schools – need to compensate teachers accordingly from $45K to 90K – have a professional union – like SAG; like docs and lawyers that have professional unions – individual contributors can negotiate; scientists and mathematicians; Teachers shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty 

 Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teaches and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; get to stay with your age cohort, but you have a “learn list” and “dashboard” set up to help you reach the needed content skills. This is happening with Sal Kahn and schools in Bay Area – need to learn from it and grow it. 

 Need to call out and address the inequities – Huge differential between what is taught in higher income and lower-income schools; the top 50 college admissions professionals in US know which high schools have rigor embedded; in low-income schools, kids top out and cannot get more; black 12th grader curriculum/school equivalent to 8th grade curriculum for white student 

Then Ann O’Leary interviewed “education expert” Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, but with zero experience in education:

 Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true – that choice in former [sic] of charters, higher standards and making this a center piece of what we do as a country – nation of opportunity – still all true, nothing has changed; turned out to be even more true than it was 30 years ago 

 Challenge of education reform: school districts are pretty hard, if not impossible, to reform – they are another broken part of democracy b/c no leader held accountable for success or failure; no one votes on school board – don’t’ know who it is; sups not elected; mayors don’t want to be involved. 

o New Orleans is an amazing story – when you make it possible to get political dysfunction and sick a bunch of talent on the problem – it’s the one place where grand bargain of charters has been kept the best 

 Problem with Charters as R&D: 

o Traditional system – less incentive and less freedom to do things in different ways – big part of charter success is to pick staff you want and pick curriculum you want – don’t have anyone to blame if you are failing; principal is ultimately accountable, but in traditional system principal is often without any power 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, writes here about the importance of civics education, especially in a time when democracy is under attack by a defeated president and the leadership of the Republican Party.

Put Civics Back in the Classroom, Right Now

Has there ever been a better time to resume lapsed efforts to teach young Americans the structure and purpose of U.S. democracy?

By Andrea Gabor

The presidential election seemed to mark a revival in American civic engagement. A record two-thirds of the electorate voted. Candidates raised at least $3 billion in small-dollar donations, and historic get-out-the-vote efforts had an impact in NevadaGeorgia and elsewhere.

Yet large numbers of Americans appear to believe President Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud. Civic life and discourse have been eroded by the normalization of lying by elected leaders, the dissemination of disinformation via social media and the attempted weaponization of the courts to undermine confidence in voting.
Has there ever been a better time for a revival of civics education? Not your father’s bland civics, with its how-a-bill-becomes-law tedium, but a vigorous set of lessons about American society and government that encourages fact-based exchanges of views and civil debate about controversial topics without taking sides in contemporary disputes about such issues as abortion or immigration policy.

Civics should begin with a common narrative that Americans can agree on, beginning with what the Declaration of Independence and Constitution say about the role and structure of U.S. government. It should explore the definition of citizenship and how it has evolved over the course of 250 years via such documents as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Seneca Falls Declaration on women’s rights, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It should address the role of the electoral college, how it works, and how votes are counted. And it should examine the prerogatives of state and local governments and their relationship to the federal government.
A foundational civics course must include uncomfortable truths. That would mean delving into the three-fifths compromise of the constitutional convention, which made slaves count toward the congressional representation of slave states without granting them any political rights, along with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Supreme Court’s sanction of Japanese internment during World War II and its 2018 decisionto overturn that precedent. But divisive and complex debatesabout the degree to which slavery shaped American society should be left to more advanced classes.

Civics should also make room for local variations in content and execution. For example, the terms on which Southern states were readmitted to the union following the Civil War might receive more emphasis in the South, and the role of the 1787 Northwest Ordinances in expanding statehood could be stressed in the West.

The refreshing of civics curricula in Illinois and Florida provide a roadmap for how states should approach the topic today. Illinois’s civics mandate, especially a requirement that classes discuss “current and controversial issues,” is especially important. The law passed overwhelmingly in 2015 with bipartisan support — Illinois was among 11 states that previously had no civics mandate — and was signed by former Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican. (While Illinois had long required high schools to teach two years of social studies, including one year of American history, the law now requires that at least one semester be devoted to civics.)

Facilitating constructive discussions of controversial topics requires special teacher training. Illinois offered all civics teachers professional development courses over a three-year period, and created a mentoring program for civics teachers, especially in schools with no previous civics course — as many as 13 percent of the total. The problem is that the state didn’t set aside money for the training, relying instead on philanthropies; a subject as important as civics should have a dedicated funding stream for educators and schools.Nor should the introduction of civics concepts wait until high school. Last year, Illinois added middle school to the grades that must provide civics instruction. Similarly, Florida’s decade-old civics law makes passing a middle-school civics course a requirement for high 
school matriculation.

A well designed middle-school civics test could support fact-based debate and is arguably less onerous than a high-school graduation requirement; students who fail the class (in Florida the test accounts for just 30 percent of the middle-school civics grade) could retake the test and go on to high school. When the coronavirus pandemic recedes, states should consider eliminating all middle-school testing in lieu of a single meaty civics test that might include geography and some economics.

When it comes to civics, states have a lot of ground to make up. For decades, government policies, including state testing mandates and federal initiatives like President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and President Barack Obama’s support for Common Core, have focused on college and workplace readiness. Civics instruction got short shrift and was often abandoned.

As attacks on democratic institutions picked up steam during the Trump presidency, civics remained an afterthought. As of 2018, only eight states required students to take a yearlong civics and government class. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is considered the nation’s report card, dropped its 4th- and 12th-grade civics and American history exam in 2014.

Few recent state civics efforts succeeded.
Now, as a few states begin to pursue a civics revival, one concern is political interference from the left and right. California Governor Gavin Newsom just vetoed an ethnic studies law that threatened to erode time and effort spent on other subjects, including civics. Last year, Florida’s legislature passed a bill requiring the state to review civics materials, a concern at a time when Republican lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis have promoted Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.

But civics instruction needn’t take sides to promote democratic involvement. Last year, Massachusetts became the first state to require schools to coordinate nonpartisan student-led civics projects. The redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics course taken by many college-bound students also requires students to work on a civics project, either partisan or not.
States should borrow good ideas from each other, including Florida’s emphasis on middle-school civics and Illinois’s focus on constructive debate. A shared narrative will be stronger if buttressed by productive argument and brought to life by civic action.

Andrea Gabor
Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism 
Baruch College/CUNY
After the Education Wars (The New Press, June 2018)

Donald Trump, a man who is noted for his ignorance of history, signed an executive order the day before the election to create a “1776 Commission” to establish guidelines for “patriotic education.” The commission was established as a counterpoint to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which told the story of African Americans in the colonies and the nation.

Although Trump surely did not read the 1619 Project, he somehow gleaned that it detracted from the all-white, all- male history that he imbibed at his military school. While he doesn’t remember it, he does know that it portrayed America as a nation that was blameless and pure. He wants to assure his base that he will fight to protect white paternalism and privilege. Whatever his commission comes up with, it’s unlikely to affect curriculum, which is decided by states and textbooks.