What Do You Mean, Teachers Can’t Create Curriculum?

My wife has a subscription to a bunch of school administrator journals. It’s not the best of reading, but I like browsing through to see what trends may be emerging on the horizon. It’s like peeking around the corner with spy gear. I am always surprised by the amount of canned curriculum being advertised in the pages of these journals — the claims that everything can be fixed with a simple software tool, or box of leveled books, or the new device is both interesting and appalling at the same time.

I was reading a column in the latest edition of District Administration by Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway (who write a column called Going Mobile) when something jumped out at me that I had to respond to. The column was about the impediments to technology in schools these days, and Norris and Salaway outline a number of obstacles. They make some good points, including the need for more professional development opportunities for teachers, a viable infrastructure that supports technology, and the need to do more work around assessment of student work with technology.

Another impediment is curriculum development and this is where something they wrote had me fuming a bit. This is what they say:

“… administrators can’t expect to be successful on the back of teacher-generated curriculum materials. Teachers are not curriculum producers; teachers are, well, teachers.” — Norris/Soloway, District Administrator

Excuse me? Condescending a bit or what?

I guess as a teacher, I am not talented or smart enough to develop a rich curriculum that engages my students in learning while also anchoring that learning to whatever state curriculum is in the mic? I don’t have the tools to be thoughtful about development of activities with end-goals in mind? I don’t have the wherewithal to integrate technology in a meaningful way for a meaningful purpose for meaningful learning?

Come on! These two need to get immersed in the work of organizations like the National Writing Project, where the heart and soul of curriculum development is with the teachers. All I could think of is that these writers may represent a majority of administrators (not all, but many) who don’t value teachers as leaders, and so where do they turn for curriculum?

That’s right. To the advertising pages of journals like District Administration, where they can spent gobs of precious money on canned curriculum that gets shoved down the throats of teachers, stifling not only the creative abilities of teachers but also taking away much of the individualized approaches to student learning that we know is most effective.

What Norris and Soloway are saying is: Trust the experts when it comes to curriculum development, and the experts are not the teachers.

If ever a statement needs push back, this is it, particularly as we shift towards Common Core standards and the major companies like Pearson are no doubt  gearing up canned curriculum and textbooks for states and school districts to purchase and pat themselves on the back that they are now in the running for Race to the Top money that comes with alignment. Administrators, look to your own teaching corp for expertise and find a way to bring us teachers into the equation, too.

Peace (in the push back),


  1. I wonder if they understand that we teach students, not curriculum? Creating the lessons for our individual students and/or classes with the students engaged in the process too is what we do. I guess what I’d really like to know is why doesn’t the person you quoted know that? It all comes down to money and who’s trying to say they know the answers so ‘come buy’ ours, doesn’t it?

    • I’m sure they do understand to some degree but it is where do some (not all) administrators value the expertise? In their own classrooms or at a corporate office?
      Thanks for jumping in to the mix (again)

  2. I’d love to know what educational and practical experiences curriculum designers have that teachers don’t already have. I don’t use ANY pre-packaged curriculum, because ultimately I am the expert in my own context, my subject and often in pedagogy. There are few things I know how to do well, but teaching is one of them.

  3. Kevin,
    Coming back to say thanks for sharing this piece. It’s one thing to be in a profession that is under scrutiny and constantly belittled by “outsiders”, but when a group that is supposed to be “providing solutions for school district management” serves up ideology like “well, their teachers” it is hard not to get even more frustrated.

    Keep on creating fabulous curriculum for your students. They definitely deserve the best.


  4. I don’t know anything about Norris or Soloway, but I am thankful I am not a teacher in their districts. I also want to know when they were last in the classroom. While I haven’t read enough of the article to fully understand the context of the quote, I must say that if that is truly the view both have of teachers then they are not equipped to be school, much less district, leaders.

    • They make some good points in the article, and I don’t think I took the quote out of context. But it was the general sentiment that struck me.
      Thanks for stopping by, Philip

  5. I have always created my own curriculum using as many relevant and reliable sources as I can. Most curriculum companies honestly don’t care about teachers or their needs. They are following trends in educational policy and following activity of lobbyists groups to try to make money. I just found out this week that this is going on in my state: http://www.provostacademy.com/. It’s a public online high school with a standardized curriculum. Tax payers are paying this private company. I don’t think most teachers even know that state legislations in SC, VA, DC are opening this up as a viable option for public schooling. Scary times!

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