Only 32 percent of superintendents in a nationwide Gallup poll agreed or strongly agreed that “parents in my school district have a good understanding of our district’s academic model and curriculum,” according to the report of the November poll, Understanding Perspectives on Public Education in the U.S.—Results of a Gallup Survey of K–12 School District Superintendents: Survey 2. Almost as many superintendents (27 percent) disagreed or strongly disagreed, and the rest gave a neutral answer. While this was only one question in the survey, which covered a variety of topics, it is the question that concerns me the most.
So, let’s say this again: Only about one-third of superintendents thought that parents in their own district had a good understanding of their own district’s curriculum. So sad. (By the way, I am setting aside the notion of whatever Gallup meant by “academic model,” because even after 40 years of experience in curriculum and assessment I have no idea what “academic model” means.)
I am not blaming parents for the low score. It is hard for parents to get a good understanding of their district’s curriculum without help from the administrators and teachers in their district. Too many districts don’t provide that help. The Gallup poll numbers actually just confirmed that.
Over the years, I have met my share of administrators and teachers who didn’t really want parents to get too involved with the district’s curriculum. Their view was that curriculum is something that professional educators should develop and then protect. That attitude explains, in part, the low score.
But, what should districts do to give parents a good understanding of the curriculum, if most of us—at least most of us parents—can agree that it would be a good thing for parents to know what their kids are learning?
Well, many districts have some kind of curriculum night in the fall when parents come to school and meet with their kids’ teachers to hear about what students will be studying during the year. That’s fine, though it is difficult for lots of parents—especially parents who work more than one job or parents who work nights or parents who travel for work or parents who have to stay home with small children—to get to school on that one evening for such an event.
Many districts ask their teachers to hand out an overview of the grade or the course for parents and students on the first day of school. Most of what is usually in those overviews, however, is not curriculum. Curriculum is what kids learn—not how teachers teach or how teachers judge learning or how teachers run the classroom and discipline the students. There is very little actual curriculum in those teacher-generated overviews.
Many districts these days put their curricula online on their websites. A parent can simply click on the curriculum for third grade math or middle school social studies or high school biology. I’ve done that. Sometimes those curricula are clearly written and informative. Sometimes they are just confusing, containing a mixture of state standards, learning objectives, instructional resources, methods of assessment, and more. It can be hard for a parent to sift through all of that in order to get an understanding of the curriculum. In some cases, of course, a parent might not have easy access to a computer to check out the curricula. In some cases, the curricula on the website might not be provided in the language that a parent speaks.
I wonder how many of the superintendents who did not agree that parents had a good understanding of the curriculum—that was, in total, 68 percent of them—have done anything at all since the poll was taken last November to improve that situation in their own district. Making the effort to help parents gain that understanding is entirely in their control, of course.
So, what’s the solution? Stay tuned for the next installment of ParentChat with Regina. I promise you a solution and the steps parents (and their superintendents) should take before the next Gallup poll. Parents, we need the superintendents to give you a higher score.