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Core curriculum is a needed and bold change

May 12, 2010
Nadene Davidson
Des Moines Register
February 28, 2009

Dr. Nadene Davidson

We are living in a rapidly changing global environment. Technology and other changes have altered the landscape of our world, opening doors of opportunity for our youth to communicate and interact with peers and others around the world. Our students are digital natives engaging in instantaneous social networking 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as a way of life.

This millennial generation has grown up in a very different world than the one I experienced as a high school student decades ago, yet many of our schools look very much the same as the one I attended. The changes seem to be all around us except in the educational institutions and learning experiences we provide. There is a significant and serious disconnect between what our students experience within the walls of our schools and the rest of their lives. We have a major responsibility to analyze this disconnect and provide innovative robust learning opportunities for each and every student.

The critical question is, "How is Iowa’s educational system preparing our youth for successful lives in the 21st century global environment?"

Iowa has taken a comprehensive approach to address the challenge of preparing students to live in this complex global environment. The Iowa Department of Education has developed the vision and framework of the Iowa Core Curriculum (ICC). The Iowa Core Curriculum includes essential concepts, and skill sets in the areas of mathematics, science, literacy, social studies, and 21st century skills. The legislation defines the 21st century skills as the areas of financial literacy, health literacy, technology literacy, civic literacy and employability skills.

The vision for the ICC includes the following:

  1. each and every k-12 student will learn the identified essential concepts and skills sets
  2. each k-12 educator will embed the essential concepts and skill sets in rigorous and relevant instruction informed by ongoing formative assessment
  3. each and every educational leader will support and ensure an aligned system of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, focused on the ICC.

To move from our current status to a level of greatness, the Iowa educational vision must move beyond student proficiency as the goal, to the vision that each and every student will graduate from high school with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed for a satisfying quality of life, post-secondary education and work.

We must provide a student-focused system where each student is provided ownership of his/her own learning. The manufacturing model of one-size fits all must be replaced with a system based on student voice, choice, and options. Supporting the student-focused model is the belief that each student can achieve at high levels when provided the appropriate supports. Engaging, robust learning experiences that are relevant beyond the walls of the school are essential elements of maintaining the student at the heart of instruction. Flexibility to deliver instruction in new and creative ways will move the focus to learning rather than seat time and gathering a grade.

It is time to move beyond tinkering to making real change with our educational institutions. The Iowa Department of Education has taken a bold step in beginning this change process with the vision and framework of the Iowa Core Curriculum. It is clear that the essential concepts and skills in each of the five ICC strands are to be learned by each and every student. To fully implement these expectations, structures will need to change as well as delivery of instruction that addresses disparity in learning. As stated in the recent study, New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (2006), “It is a world in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to the good life, in which high levels of education-a very different kind of education than most of us had -are going to be the only security there is.”

Dr. Davidson is interim head of the Department of Teaching and assistant professor, University of Northern Iowa