For the last 10 years I’ve been part of a team developing and deploying a highly distinct and innovative visual approach for teaching and learning math via a supplemental software program and accompanying education process. It’s now being studied by an IES grant, and we have seen replicable, significant, positive results at scale. We are convinced that curriculum is not a commodity, that new and innovative instructional design and neuroscience-based learning environments will greatly assist teachers to productively engage and advance all students, and thus that availability and scale-up of new curriculum is vital to improving student outcomes.

From this perspective of a curriculum innovator seeking to scale, the possibility of the U.S. market significantly re-fragmenting after the Common Core “consensus” I find very distressing. Having spent the last 10 years scaling up one-state-at-a-time through wildly different and changing state standards (even in math!) and assessments, the thought of Common Core unraveling translates into more slow slogging to get a new solution deployed and proven.

Yes, the paradox from my view is that common standards and assessments will help bring about a wider choice of innovative curricula (design/approach), because of the reduced barriers of time and cost to scale-up and prove. The inverse, a retreat from Common Core, by any state, will mean less access in that state, or later access, to innovation from any but the biggest brands and most deep-pocketed publishers.

Now, if you are a conscious believer that curriculum is a commodity well, then, who cares. We’ve got plenty of curricula. Some of it free. But consider  if 21st century curriculum (design/approach) turns out to be a major difference between scaling up success or never getting there…

Sure, the whispered predictions of a monolithic “common curriculum”, even if the word “framework” is attached, could also be terrifying to small innovators. But the “common” can and will stop at common assessments. I don’t believe the market, or CCS, or Common Core assessments, will drive a monolithic curriculum. In my view, a single standard, or assessment, does not dampen the enthusiasm to develop curricula. Many curricula can, should, and will be built regardless of whether there is 1 spec or 50, 1 yardstick or 50. Just look at the intrastate variety now; obviously a “single” state standards and assessment does not drive into place a single curriculum. But, again, if you unconsciously believe curricula are interchangeable commodities, then it would seem more likely to you that assessment would determine curriculum.

So: if one is for a larger variety of curriculum (content/approach) choice and a market where the publishers (for-profit or non-profit) are maximally incented to continuously innovate and improve their offerings, then one should favor CCS and inter-state-comparable assessments. Seems like people of most political stripes would agree that a larger market better drives the creation of innovative new products that increase quality and reduce cost.

Why should the U.S. market not aim to attract investment in innovation and new products/programs commensurate to the its size? Why require unnecessarily high costs of development and marketing a new program/product to serve a 50-different-states market? Why would we want to retreat to a future of 50 different and un-normalized yardsticks so that anything that actually works has to prove itself 50 times over?

I think the apparently widely held belief that ed-reform is all about (i.e. on the back of) teachers, and that it doesn’t therefore matter that much what approach or curriculum they are given/choose, is a) wrongheaded and underinformed, b) going to take way too long to get us where we need to get on a national scale, and c) tremendously clouding the logic of this debate.

Curriculum (content/approach) is not a commodity! High quality, rigorous studies are not always into the future doomed to come up with the tired old “no significant effects” conclusion for almost every program. Independent of teacher quality, we also need a market that values and stimulates continuous investment in more/better content and tools for teachers, from which they and their districts are free to choose.