This report was corrected at 12:45 p.m. March 14, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
In the budget requested by Montgomery County Public Schools for fiscal 2013, there are summaries for the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Department of Instructional Programs.
Among their salaries, equipment and travel, the combined budgets add up to about $10.6 million, including money for vocational and technical education. That doesn’t seem to be a large chunk of a $2.13 billion budget.
But the descriptions of those departments contain phrases and terms straight out of classrooms and principals’ offices: the Maryland School Assessments, high school graduation requirements, weighted grade point averages, English as a Second Language programs and common standards in English and mathematics.
Sometimes lost in controversies about teacher compensation and political fights in Annapolis is the school system’s essential function: To instruct students and help them learn.
To those who think that curriculum — and the way it’s taught — hasn’t changed since the most advanced classroom technology was a teacher’s bifocals, the school system would say otherwise.
The most prominent example is what the school officials call “Curriculum 2.0.” Initially dubbed the “Elementary Integrated Curriculum,” it is an attempt to fundamentally change the way key concepts are taught, the order in which they are taught, and how teachers determine if students have mastered the key facts, concepts and themes.
It is an effort to create a curricular and instructional system that mirrors the Common Core State Standards adopted by Maryland and a majority of states to implement uniform, internationally-driven standards in English and math.
The basic goal is to incorporate academic, critical thinking, and creative thinking skills into lesson plans. In a class during one marking period, for example, a student might learn analyzing an object to break it down into its parts and attributes as a critical thinking skill, and collaboration as an academic skill.
These skills are incorporated into lesson plans on daily and weekly schedules.
In recent years, the school system also has undertaken comprehensive middle school reform in both core subjects such as science, English and world studies, as well as electives. The goals of the reform include extended learning opportunities, including parents in the reform efforts, and curriculum that is “engaging, motivating and rigorous,” according to the school system.
Montgomery County Public Schools is in the process of reforming its elementary school curriculum. What emphasis or changes would you make to curriculum or instruction either at in elementary or secondary level or throughout MCPS?
— Lou August
“We need a well rounded curriculum that engages all students. MCPS must teach our students essential skills for future success - the ability to communicate well, think critically, solve problems creatively, and collaborate with others. Curriculum changes must be carefully implemented, with realistic timelines and appropriate staff training.”
— Phil Kauffman
“Curriculum reform needs to focus on preparing children for how to learn, as the specific skills they need are constantly changing. To that end, I would focus more on math and data analysis skills. I would also focus on enabling more individualized programs for children who are struggling with disabilities.”
— Morris Panner
"Students should be better prepared to enter the workforce. We need to think beyond just standardized testing and college prep and introduce targeted education, aptitude testing, career training, personal financial literacy, and corporate internship partnerships across our high schools. That will more aptly prepare our students for life after school."
— Aryeh Shudofsky
“I support Superintendent Starr's recent decision to eliminate the testing of 2nd graders for the gifted and talented program. This was simply too early in a child's development for adequate assessment.”
— Saqib Ali
“The new curriculum offers a more multidisciplinary approach to learning. I would also encourage more experiential learning. Most critically, we must be more agile at continuous curriculum modification to provide knowledge and skills that meet the needs of a world of dramatic and rapid change. Meaningfully involved communities are key.”
— Susan Byrne
“Disproportionate emphasis on testing has meant reduced creativity and independent thought in our classrooms. Making time for art, music, and more robust science and social studies programs are the answer. Enhancing the Elementary School curriculum with these programs will teach the whole child and carry over into our Secondary Schools.”
— Jeanne Ellinport
“There are three important steps for new curriculum implementation. Has it been implemented in other districts and improved student achievement? Secondly, have teachers been given the appropriate materials, time and training to implement it. Finally, have there been opportunities for feedback and analysis to determine the success of the curriculum.”
— Fred Evans
“I like what I’ve seen thus far with the new curriculum, but I would also look at best practices worldwide because we are lower in educational rankings than some other countries. We should evaluate the appropriateness of systems that we find effective in other cultures for our own schools.”
— Rebecca Smondrowski
“Maryland (and MCPS) has adopted the Common Core State Standards (Curriculum 2.0) which emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving and more collaborative work by our students. The bigger challenge is to ensure that our staff gets the appropriate training support and feedback to deliver that curriculum effectively in the classroom.”
— Christopher Barclay
— Annita Seckinger
This report was corrected to include the response from Aryeh Shudofsky.