Inextricably intertwined curriculum

Historically, the federal government has had little involvement with the development of curriculum because of the tenth amendment, although their role in education has been evolving since 1965 with the introduction of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (Fuller, 1962;  US Department of Education, 2012; Rothman, 2009). As outlined on the Department of Education’s website (2012), the federal government’s role in curriculum development is limited to “collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research, focusing national attention on key educational issues and prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.”  The federal government has created legislation and policies that fulfil this mission, including ESEA, and the reauthorization of ESEA under the No Child Left Behind Act, Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Act, which all work toward the mission of ensuring high quality education for all students. (US Department of Education, 2012). Today, the vast majority of decisions regarding the written or intended curriculum are still made at the state and local levels.

States are tasked with “setting broad policies for school-level curricula, texts, standards, and assessments” (USNEI, 2008). Although state education standards were first established in the early 1990’s, the lack in standardization led states to take the lead on creating national standards, with the input of teachers and leading national organizations, including the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. For this, the Common Core standards for ELA and math were developed. Several organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Education Association helped recruit teachers to provide feedback on the standards. For the majority of states, this led to adoption of Common Core Standards, due to the Race to the Top grant money that was attached to their adoption (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2015). The Common Core Standards equate to written curriculum that states can then manipulate at both the state, district and classroom levels, to suit the needs of their students. The same goes for states, such as Virginia, who have their own versions of the college and career readiness standards. Teachers are tasked with connecting the written standards adopted by their state and interpreted at the local level to the implemented curriculum in their classroom. National organizations, such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum (ASCD), NCTE and the National Council for History Education (NCHE), all have similar missions which may include some of all of the following: conducting and/or disseminating educational research, providing professional development opportunities, and advocating for education reform (Education Resource Organizations Directory, 2014).  The department of education offers links to over 3000 general and specialized education organizations and associations, all of which have a hand in molding teacher choices regarding curriculum and instruction. All of this comes together at the classroom level. The adopted state standards are not the purpose of schooling (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014), but are used to vertically and horizontally align the curriculum for teachers across a district, state and the nation. They provide sequence and coherence for teachers, which is inline with the qualities of effective design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). The implemented curriculum is where the most impact on students occurs and is largely a result of the teacher. Teachers are responsible for the development of the implemented and hidden curriculums, using the written and intended curriculum to drive their instruction in the classrooms. As a teacher, the barrage of mandates, recommendations, and strategies that fly in from all directions is overwhelming and exhausting. It’s far worse when students aren’t delivering on achievement goals set by those who are far removed from the daily realities of their lives and communities. UbD and UDL can have a large, positive impact on the implementation level. It provides teachers a structure for teachers to target learning in their classroom. UDL provides a framework for teachers to craft clear goals and flexible practices that account for learner variability and create expert learners (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014). When districts pressure teachers to stick to rigid pacing guides that are inline only with the mandated standards, they lose sight of the goal of education. A personal reflection – Federal and state governments have no role in the implemented curriculum and therefore, I imagine UDL and UbD are out of their realm of influence. Districts, and more importantly classroom teachers, can apply the tenets of both into their classroom practice. My district recently adopted a unit planner that was modeled after the UbD unit planner. The verbiage was nearly identical. It baffled everyone and caused a lot of grumbling at the school level. Teachers were frustrated and confused. Now that I am taking this class, I see the value in this planner because I better understand it. Districts can impact the classroom level curriculum and use UbD to positively impact learning in the classroom if they properly prepare teachers to utilize the planner, create lessons in this way and implement them in the classroom. Districts and teachers can use UbD to think purposefully about their planning, help students dig deeper into the mandated state standards via big ideas, provide learner autonomy, and help students to actively construct meaning. Using UbD can help teachers avoid the twin sins of curriculum planning, activity oriented and content coverage, that occur when teachers feel pressure from state mandated testing tied to federal funding. It provides districts and teachers with a framework to continually improve their practice and help students become expert learners (Wiggins, & McTighe, 2011).


Fuller, E. (1962). The Role of Government in Curriculum Innovation. Educational Leadership, 19(8), 514-533.

Meyer, A. Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

Rothman, Robert. (2009). The evolving federal role. Voices in Urban Education. 24, 2-5.

US Department of Education. (2014). Education resource organization directory. Retrieved from US Department of Education. (2012). Federal Role in Education. Retrieved from

US Network for Education Information. (2008). Organization of U.S. education: State role I -Primary and secondary education. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2011) The understanding by design guide to creating high-quality units. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


8 thoughts on “Inextricably intertwined curriculum

  1. Teresa! I really enjoyed reading how you mapped out how each level of government plays a role. I agree with your personal reflection though. A lot of teachers were very upset about the planner. I think it had to do with a lack of training on how to use them. If they haven’t learned a lot about UbD or know the purpose of it-it can be very frustrating. Possibly the approach that Henrico used was really poor, but if they actually taught the teachers how to properly do them..more teachers would see how beneficial that could really be.


    1. Teresa, I like how you you mentioned that state mandates and recommendations can be overwhelming and exhausting. As teachers we’re given so much information and trained on “the next best” approach or strategy to use when implementing the curriculum in our classrooms, that by the time we’ve learned the material and how best to use it in our classroom we’re moving on to the “next best thing”.


    2. Nice reflection. I agree that the standards serve as a foundation and framework to guide classroom teaching. Teachers are tasked with taking the standards and adopting them to fit their student populations and personal styles. I find your Meyer Rose & Gordon quote about the standards ant their purpose to be interesting. I both agree and disagree with the quote. I agree with the quote to the extent that standards do help to align teachers across the states under the same curriculum. My issue comes with it not serving the purpose of schooling. If the purpose of schooling is the acquisition of knowledge and the knowledge that is taught in schools is tied directly to the standards, how is that not the purpose of schooling? Do you feel that the standards are completely unrelated to the purpose of schooling? I would argue that with the shift in policy and the government’s role in education has altered the true function of schools and put heavy emphasis on the standards and accountability. Thoughts??


  2. Great post! You mentioned that your school tried to implement a unit planner and that everyone was confused after they were told to use it without any background as to why it would be important. Do you see that a lot at your school where the school puts a task on the teachers without any explanation and then expects you all too just figure it out? I can only imagine how frustrating that must be! You also mention that you can see how UbD can help students dig deeper into the standards mandated by the state. Do you see yourself using UbD to ensure that this happens in your classroom?


  3. Teresa,

    I like your point about how far removed the policy-makers are from the actual lives they are affecting with their policies, such as NCLB. I wonder how that would change if policy-makers were actually tasked with spending a day in the schools, in the life of a teacher, watching how we balance all of the different curriculums we are tasked with teaching.

    I also like your point about how much better you understand/like your Henrico planner after your exposure in this class. I feel like often, at the county level, we are tasked with mandates with broad explanations of how they will be helpful, and very little explicit instruction in how to implement them. Maybe Dr. Smith should come do some workshops in Henrico!


  4. Teresa,

    I understand your statement that districts, specifically teachers, have the most influence over the implemented curriculum. However, thinking back on the recent rigor added to our standards of learning—fill in the black questions, technology enhanced questions, and the selection of various answers, it seemed that when the rigor went up, the passing scores of districts statewide plummeted. It leads me to think that we all can’t be getting it wrong–our district and classroom level instructional strategies could not have been that far off from the intended mark. So I wonder, if the states intended goals are being communicated to districts and classroom teachers in a way that is proactive instead of reactive? The number of schools under a microscope right now is insane. This has forced districts and classroom teachers to re-evaluate their instructional strategies which looks like throwing around random “research-based” learning methods that are intended to provide passing SOL scores. Trial by fire, and super tiresome.

    I often feel that the change in assessments was a secret plan by the state as a way to become more actively involved in schools; however, their presence is creating more mandates that are overwhelming and exhausting—and has become a more of a hurt not help situation. Although I have no proof to back this statement, I do know firsthand that districts are being scrutinized over assessment scores that have questions that do not correlate to standard objectives. Schools are losing accreditation, and basically trying to keep their heads above water as they provide portfolios to members of the state/VDOE to validate that teaching is happening in their building. As if we don’t have enough on our plate? 😦

    All in all, it seems that the assessments became harder, while the SOL learning objectives remained the same. The big ideas the state expects students to retain is not being communicated well enough, which has resulted in a huge uproar in education and has made public education a very tense environment.


  5. I actually disagree. I do think that many teachers can be getting it wrong. When they implemented high stakes testing and state standards, teacher began teaching to a test. From my experience in a Title I school, the pressure to pass the tests is overwhelming, and teachers began just trying to drill in information in hopes of higher test scores. All critical thinking and rigor was removed from the classroom. This environment has crushed their ability to think beyond ABCD. They think there is one correct answer for everything. They wanted it neatly packaged. The new added rigor should have been a blip on the screen if good teaching was still happening in many of these classrooms.

    Now, there are other variables that affect learning, beyond the classroom, and mandates, etc. do not account for these. It has always been one of my biggest beefs with tying funding and evaluations to scores. I could sit around and pick my nose most days and a large majority of my students would pass these tests. In my old school, I could teach my tail off 24 hours a day, and many of my students would still struggle because they didn’t have adequate nutrition, shelter, clothing or love in their homes.

    There is something to be said for the number of schools under a microscope. We have to look beyond test scores and teachers to the real issues that plague our country…cultures of low expectations, the tyranny of stereotypes, poverty. The debilitating effects these things have on our children is far more detrimental than anything we could do in a classroom. I don’t say this to say that these things prevent learning. Children in poverty are clearly able to learn, but going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is much harder to focus on this need when your stomach is empty.

    And education, in my experience is often reactive. We identify a problem, throw a solution at it and then pretend it never happened when it doesn’t work a month later. Rinse and repeat. I agree, it is tiresome. Which is why I’ve always ignored it. I realize I’m in the minority of teachers, or people, really who could care less what gets thrown at me. I’m going to take what is valuable and leave the rest and I would defy someone to fire me for doing what is best for my kids. We’ve created a culture of scared and devalued teachers. Teachers need to realize we have a voice and until we all are willing to use it, we will continue to be railroaded.


  6. Teresa –

    Wonderful reflection! You’ve presented a compelling case with your reviews, links to the literature, and personal stances as a teacher. I love the title of your blog post for this past week and it so aptly captures the situations. Intertwined is a great descriptor for how the various political powers and influences play into decisions around curriculum, for sure! I’m glad to see that you see the opportunity that the UbD process provides in the design and implementation of curriculum. I trust you see (or will see) the same through the UDL framework. You note a number of professional associations and, in fact, many of those are part of the UDL National Taskforce who advocate for UDL language in policy – at many levels. I’ve had the good fortune of working with this group since 2009 and representing the interests of the VECAP ( organization. Increasingly, the understanding of UDL has been changing. A definition is in policy (Higher Education Act of 2008), written into pertinent language, embraced by some states and considered in teacher evaluation. I encourage you to dig deeper into the National UDL Center ( and take a peek at the Advocacy area and Implementation. The UbD framework is also something that has been in play for sometime and organizations such as ASCD are strong proponents. I suspect they too have taken stances on these approaches. Might be worthwhile to explore. Even more so, you might wish to join some of these organizations now; student memberships are sharply discounted. Professional memberships in your discipline are great ways to add your voice to these discussions and help shape directions forward!


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