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 http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/Programs/EROD/ US Department of Education. (2012). Federal Role in Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/role.html
US Network for Education Information. (2008). Organization of U.S. education: State role I -Primary and secondary education. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/edlite-org-us.html
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2011) The understanding by design guide to creating high-quality units. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.