Summer is winding down and kids across America are making their way back to the classroom. Grocery lists are filled with lunch box items instead of popsicles and campfire foods, flip-flops are replaced with sneakers, and pantries are stocked with school supplies instead of beach towels and sunscreen. With parent’s rights and transparency being a top priority over the last couple of years, it is a great time to revisit the difference between standards and curriculum. We have received phone calls and emails already from parents asking how to find out what their kids are learning this semester or many parents are shocked to learn what their kids are learning during the first week of school.
The first week of school is always a bit chaotic no matter the attempt by teachers and parents to be organized. Your child should have received what is called a syllabus for each class where your teacher will do their best to lay out the expectations and requirements of the class. Perhaps the syllabus answers all of your questions but if you are like me and have multiple kids in school where you may have a total of 24 teachers in a semester you are going to need something that resembles a crime scene evidence board to keep track of everything.
While we can’t help you organize your life, we can help you understand the difference between standards and curriculum.
WHAT ARE STANDARDS?
Standards are defined by the state and specifically define what students should be learning in the public school system. Standards drive what curriculum is procured.
Important – If you question the curriculum your child is learning, you should ALWAYS ask your teacher, in writing, to provide you with the actual standards that map to the curriculum. If the curriculum does not map to state standards, you should ALWAYS, in writing, ask the teacher WHY it is being taught.
WHAT IS CURRICULUM?
The curriculum is knowledge and skills students are expected to earn as defined by state standards; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.
Generally, the local school district’s Superintendent, through its Academic/Curriculum Department, procures curriculum that must meet minimum state-defined learning standards.
- The district-procured curriculum must be approved by the local School Board before implementation.
- All decisions about curriculum and resources are district and school-level decisions
- Individual schools, with principals and Student Governance Councils, may implement additional curricula and programs outside of the core curriculum for ELA, Science, Social Studies, and Math.
- Some schools allow department chairs or individual teachers to procure supplemental/additional curricula.
We have learned over the last 2 years that some teachers and schools are more forthcoming than others in providing standards and curriculum. Check your state laws as many state legislators have passed bills in the last 2 years that require curriculum transparency for parents and guardians. Your state department of education should also have state standards posted on their website that should be easily accessible. I would always recommend comparing these to what is provided by your school. Curriculum can be a little more challenging these days with many schools stating that copyright infringement prevents them from complying with requests from parents and guardians. I would just respond that you are asking to review the curriculum not sell it. Your tax dollars paid for that curriculum and you have every right to review it. As a last resort, you can always file a Right to Know, Freedom of Information Act, or Open Records depending on what your state calls it by finding the form on the school district’s website. Check out our Substack article here on how to file a Freedom of Information Act.
HOW CAN I USE THIS TO TAKE ACTION IN MY SCHOOL DISTRICT?
Understanding what your child is learning will provide discernment on whether your district needs a better curriculum. Is it full of political ideology? Is it focused on academics or pushing a social justice agenda? Use this discernment to petition your school for a better curriculum. We invite you to browse our website for content-rich curriculum solutions that you can promote in your school district or utilize for your homeschool group. Many of these solutions are free!