Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Iowa Core Foundations are What Matter

When I logged into TweetDeck this morning, I expected the usual: some nice quotes, a few helpful links, and a few questions. What I found instead was my name tied to a very heated conversation. It appears that there is some proposed state legislation to eliminate the Iowa Core. After jumping into the fray on Twitter this morning, these are the big things I took away from that conversation:

1. Defining words matters. Words like "content," "rigor," "improvement," and "assessment" get tossed around. Sometimes for cheap attention. Sometimes in an effort to understand and improve. If these terms, or more importantly the concepts they represent, are really that important, we need make sure of two things: (a) we are all talking about the same things when we use them, and (b) the claims we are making about the nature of their existence in our school system are accurate. However, point "b" is impossible unless we have accomplished point "a." Furthermore, it is possible to examine these things systematically and objectively. We can do better than throwing words at each other, let's get on the same page and work together towards real solutions.

2. Alignment matters...a lot. I've seen and heard a lot of conversations over the years, well-intentioned I assume, talking about why how we teach is more important that what we teach, and vice versa. I find this debate to be relatively fruitless at best, and cannibalistic at worst. I appreciate the sentiment, but in my opinion, these two elements go hand in hand, and must influence each other. With that said, my main gig is focusing on the "what" of instruction. I will certainly blog about the research behind this area in the future, but for now, I'll state my perception briefly: alignment of the intended, enacted, and assessed curriculum matters, and usually it matters a lot.

3. The Iowa Core is more than just content. The content of the Iowa Core is what receives most of the attention in schools and in the press. But the Iowa Core is about much more than that. My friend and colleague Bridgette Wagoner speaks very eloquently about this here. Check it out.

I will advocate from the top of my lungs the importance of content, but if that's all we deal with, writing down what we want students to know and be able to do in a set of content standards, we've fallen well short of helping teachers and students improve. For example, read this.

4. The Iowa Core may go away someday, but the foundations should not. The names and acronyms of the latest and greatest solutions for improving our public schools change on a regular basis. But the foundation upon which many of these are built on rarely does. The Iowa Core is about providing equity in the opportunity to learn a rigorous and relevant curriculum, yes. But it's also about quality pedagogical and assessment practices, leadership, and collaborative learning amongst all educators.

It is what we have learned from research and experience that should fuel innovation and change, not the loud arguments we hear from all corners. The Iowa Core is built on a solid foundation. Can it be better? Yes, and I hope it does get better. Or, more importantly, I hope we get better, even if the Iowa Core goes away.


  1. Thanks for sharing this message with such passion and clarity. I believe that the work of the Iowa Core is the right work but I also understand that what we are now calling the Iowa Core is not new. The research behind this work has been around for a very long time. What is new is that the Iowa Core is truly intended for all students and includes all stakeholders.

    I'm proud of the work we've done with the Core and I believe that the firm foundations that the Core is built on will last far longer than the name. Our new governor apparently would like to see it repealed. If that happens, I hope the work that has been done to systemically transform instruction across the state by thousands of dedicated educators will not be lost and forgotten. These educators and our students deserve the opportunity to grow and succeed all expectations within this new paradigm.

  2. Thanks bobgato1. I share your feelings. Just about everywhere I go I work with teachers and administrators who want to learn and improve. The Iowa Core has helped motivate action in my opinion. I believe that the folks at the Department of Education and the AEAs want this work to continue. So let's keep fighting the good fight for our teachers and kids. :)