By: Diane Massell

Michael Kirst

Margaret Hoppe

May 1997


TO:            National Education Goals Panel
FROM:      Diane Massell
RE:            Clarifying Questions about Persistence
                  and Change: Standards-Based Reform in Nine States

DATE:       May 9, 1997

The attached report, Persistence and Change: Standards-Based Reform in Nine States, (Attachment A) is hereby submitted for the consideration of the National Education Goals Panel. This report looks at the progress of standards-based reform initiatives undertaken by California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas as of the 1994-95 year. CPRE studied the evolution of state policy and its impact in a sample of districts in each state.

In response to this report, your staff posed additional clarifying questions. This memorandum is an attempt to respond to those inquiries. I draw from our knowledge of reform in the above-mentioned nine states, as well as other CPRE research undertaken for other purposes.

Regarding Curriculum and Textbook Materials

You asked: "What provision are states making to support the development of curriculum that reflect their new state standards? Are they either developing such curriculum themselves, or helping local districts develop or adopt such curriculum? Are state's offering grants, creating resource centers or clearing houses, sponsoring curriculum-related meetings, institutes, training sessions, networks, technical assistance, or undertaking other activities? Are local districts taking the initiative to develop curriculum based on their own state standards? Please describe. Are districts developing curricula for the standards? How and to what extent are they doing so? Is it fair to say that there is an important step in standards implementation missing here?

Are states doing anything to encourage local district use of textbooks and instructional materials that reflect the standards? What do textbook adoption states such as California and Texas do to ensure that textbooks approved for use in their states express their state standards? How do they do it? What, if anything, do other states do to encourage the development, adoption, and use of good textbooks or other instructional materials geared to help students meet the state standards? Do the state's encourage the use of NSF-funded or other independently developed instructional materials? To what extent are local districts themselves selecting high quality, standards-based textbooks?"

The strategies states use to influence and support curriculum that meets the standards varies widely, depending on a number of factors. One primary influence is the ways in which state and local policymakers negotiate the terrain of "local control" over education. Most state policymakers proclaim the importance of local control as a factor that constrains their ability to input the school curricula. However, what this means in Connecticut, for example, is very different from what it means in Iowa. In Iowa, for example, the state does not even mandate a statewide assessment-a common practice for other states in the union. While less than half the states adopt lists of recommended or required textbooks, many other states are prohibited by law from mandating any particular curriculum. State strategies for enabling curriculum reform must toe the line of these different political cultures.

In addition, variations in state strategies for supporting curriculum development also arise because of differences in the resources, knowledge, and numbers of staff available both within state departments of education and across other organizations in the state. For over ten years, the dollars and numbers of staff at State Departments of Education have been steadily declining (Massell and Fuhrman, 1994). In California, for instance, the Department has lost nearly 50 percent of its staff since 1991, leaving it with just one math and science specialist (Carlos and Kirst, 1997). These changes raise the importance of other institutions and externally-funded projects as facilitators of curriculum development. We found that projects like the multiple Systemic Initiatives supported by the National Science Foundation, or local foundation efforts, were providing critical resources for curriculum development and implementation. But the extent to which states have independent, external sources of institutional support for curriculum development varies. Comparatively speaking, for instance, California is rich in the types and numbers of external organizations involved in curriculum development and reform.

Having explained why approaches to curricular support vary, let me now go on to describe specific ways in which states try to leverage curriculum change. One common strategy has been for states simply to provide the incentives, and key data, for schools and districts to make decisions about revising their curriculum to meet state standards. In this model of change, for example, Connecticut and Kentucky established a new student assessment program tied to higher standards, and designed approaches to accountability that they believed would spur alignment and provide locals with the information they needed to change their curriculum.

While Kentucky is a materials-adoption state, in the earliest years of Kentucky's reform (the early 1990s), curriculum specialists and others were reported to have strongly discouraged teachers from using textbooks. In the constructivist spirit that the best curricula is tailored by the teachers to the specific educational needs of their students, many Kentucky officials believed that it would undermine reform to use textbooks, or to provide teachers or districts with highly specific curriculum programs. As mentioned in the Persistence and Change report, however, teachers and local administrators were at a loss as to how to develop or carry out the kinds of comprehensive curriculum changes that was necessary to meet the demands of the high-stakes reform climate. They demanded more guidance from the state, and later did receive it in the form of more detailed core content standards. Kentucky has also encouraged independent efforts that had curriculum components that were in line with Kentucky's standards. For example, they provided some support for the Galef Institute-Kentucky Collaborative for Elementary Learning, which has a primary school curriculum (Different Ways of Knowing) aligned to their reforms.

More recently, officials in Kentucky have begun discussing ways to evaluate and disseminate information about existing curricula to help locals make the leap from data on student and school performance to specific curriculum and instruction that can help them make improvements. Similarly, Connecticut officials believe that their next major task is to build local awareness of how to select well-matched and high quality curricular material, of which they feel there is a good supply. Like many states, they are, for example, sharing information about the new curricula coming from the National Science Foundation.

California undertook a more multi-layered approach to the challenge of helping local educators develop and implement curricula aligned to its standards. While the state has a long tradition of textbook adoption, officials did not rely exclusively on that strategy. In part they realized that getting the industry to reconceptualize their materials in the way the new curriculum frameworks required would not happen easily. Many were also aware that textbooks alone would not be sufficient to bring about the broad kinds of curriculum changes they wanted to see. Thus, the state supported multiple strategies for curriculum change.

Let us look at the case of mathematics reform. After developing its new mathematics framework in 1985, the State Board of Education used it to try to push publishers to develop more innovative curriculum. Although they rejected many texts-much to the publishers surprise at the time-officials were not satisfied with the outcome. At that time California decided to sponsor the development of "replacement units," which were new curriculum modules focused on specific mathematical topics in the state framework. Similarly, when the state received a Statewide Systemic Initiatives grant from the National Science Foundation in 1991, they funded a Mathematics Renaissance initiative, a network aimed at replacing traditional computation and drill curriculum with new framework-based lesson units for middle schools.1

At the high school level, California introduced a new transitional course consistent with standards reforms called Math A. Math A is designed to upgrade general math courses and serve as a bridge to get more lower-achieving students into college preparatory math courses. It replaces general math with a course that stresses powerful content, an emphasis on problem-solving, real-world applications, empirical reasoning, and the use of questioning strategies, manipulatives, calculators, and cooperative learning. A CPRE study found that transition math courses resulted in many improvements in practice. After taking this class, students ended up taking more challenging math in later years. Students learned more and more challenging as well as practical (real-life) material, and had a better opinion of math and a higher sense of self-esteem than students in lower-level math courses (White, Porter, Gamoran, and Smithson 1996).

Perhaps the most central piece of California's strategy to align classroom teaching and curriculum with the frameworks, however, was the use of teacher networks. While there are many of these, the Subject Matter Projects (SMPs) stand out as well-established and exemplary. The origins of the SMPs can be traced to the Bay Area Writing project (BAWP), first established over twenty years ago. Building on this model, the Subject Matter Projects were created to expand the number of teachers and teacher leaders knowledgeable about curriculum. The legislature provided them with funding in three-year cycles, which both provided stability and enabled interested teachers to make a long-term commitment and evolve into a cadre of teacher leaders. By 1994, the SMPs were running in 90 sites as of 1994, and represented work in 11 curriculum areas. Through several-week summer institutes and follow-up training through the year, participating teachers have had the opportunity to reflect on and develop instructional and curricular strategies and projects.

These types of efforts seem to have been effective in beginning the transformation of teaching towards more ambitious standards. In a 1994-95 CPRE survey of California elementary school teachers' response to state mathematics reforms, researchers found that teachers' participation in workshops2 centered on the new student curriculum had important impacts on teachers' behavior and classroom practices. Compared to teachers who were involved in more generic types of workshops, these experiences prompted teachers' involvement in reform-related activities and reform-related instruction. Better yet, the study found that these changes seemed to translate into students' success on the statewide mathematics test (then, the California Learning Assessment System) (Cohen, Wilson, and Hill, 1997). Some observers also believe that these networks of teachers will help stabilize and protect reform from shifting political winds in education policy (Loucks-Horsley, 1997).

Certainly, as these examples demonstrate, states have not ignored the important issue of bridging the gap between standards and local practice via curriculum. Yet clearly local educators want and need more external guidance and support for curriculum and instruction than they receive. What support they get frequently comes from the commercial publishers whose textbooks they have adopted, on a one-shot workshop basis. While some states have taken some important steps to help districts and schools "flesh out" the curricular implications of the standards, it would be fair to say that an enormous amount needs to be done. Some of the California efforts, for example, had only scratched the surface of the teaching population. By 1994, only 2 percent of its teachers were estimated to have been involved in the Subject Matter Projects. States' strategies-ranging from efforts to leverage change in the commercial publishing industry, sponsorship of curriculum development, or sponsorship of curriculum development as part of professional development, evaluation and dissemination of knowledge about existing curricula-need more focus and support from state policymakers.

Whatever path is taken, state policymakers must also be reminded of the lessons learned about the National Science Foundation's efforts to develop and implement state-of-the-art curricula from the late-1950s through the 1970s. That lesson was, and is, that curricula is not teacher-proof, and that long-term professional develop and support is critical to effective change in classroom instruction. For example, supporting teachers to implement a new textbook can be as minimal as a district curriculum specialist providing a sequencing guide for teachers pace their instruction in the new textbook to match up to the topics covered in the statewide exam. Such support does nothing to help teachers understand new, richer content or more appropriate instructional strategies. In the astute observation of Richard Elmore about the NSF curriculum reforms of the 1950s through 1970s:

"The reformers saw the problem of change in a charmingly simple way-get some teachers to try out a new approach to teaching by exposing them to it in a summer workshop and then provide them with the materials they need to teach it on a regular basis. The reformers failed to understand..the multitude of forces that operate on the seemingly simple problem of why teachers teach the way they do. The biggest determinants of how teachers teach are factors like how they themselves were taught, what they actually know about the content they are teaching, how knowledge is defined by individual teachers and by the organizations in which they work, and what access teachers have to new knowledge and to models about how to teach differently. Trying to change teaching by changing curriculum is a bit like trying to improve one's writing by changing the word processing software in one's computer…An incompetent, poorly educated teacher, without access to the support necessary to think and teach differently, will turn the best filet mignon curriculum into meatloaf." (Elmore, 1993, pp. 48-49).

In addition to professional support for teachers, policymakers must not neglect the often critical brokering role played by state and local central office staff in interpreting, and deploying resources, for schools to undertake curricular change.

Regarding Instruction and Professional Development

You asked: "Have states or state universities made any effort to encourage pre-service teacher education programs to prepare new teachers with the knowledge and skills to help students meet state education standards? How do states encourage in-service professional development opportunities for classroom teachers to acquire the knowledge and skills called for in state education standards? Are there instances where teachers, teacher educators, or others have identified what teachers need to know to teach students to meet the standards, and have they tried to design pre-service or in-service experiences to do so? Please describe."

State policymakers, and increasingly university officials, are aware of the critical need to improve teacher education and state teacher policies, and move them in line with the more demanding instructional goals embedded in state standards. One important goal reformers have identified is to expand teachers' knowledge of the subject areas in which they teach. Some states have consequently tried to improve the disciplinary learning that occurs in teacher preparation programs by requiring more credits in academic subject areas, imposing discipline-based tests of entry-level teachers, and expanding interactions between faculty in the liberal arts and sciences and faculty in teacher education programs.

Connecticut is a state that has undertaken change in several of these areas. For example, in 1989 the state first implemented its Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) program. BEST pairs beginning teachers with veteran classroom teachers trained as mentors in peer coaching, team teaching, and using instructional resources, and new teachers must successfully complete the BEST program to receive a provisional certificate. Through its participation in the national Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC)3, Connecticut developed and piloted new, discipline-based teacher performance evaluations in BEST which uses teaching portfolios and is congruent with state instructional reform goals.

Secondly, the Connecticut SSI initiative provided grants to university faculty to redesign teacher education curricula. Through what they called "co-teaching partnerships," K-12 and college faculty jointly taught content and pedagogy courses, and college faculty visited and co-taught in K-12 classes to see how standards were being implemented. Studies found that these efforts had laid the groundwork for the restructuring whole degree programs in mathematics, science, and teacher education in several of the institutions. However, as could be anticipated, change was not universal; inertia or poorly conceived designs for the grants caused some initiatives to fall short (Bruckerhoff and Bruckerhoff, 1996).

Kentucky provides an interesting example of a state that has done much to encourage in-service professional development for classroom teachers, and has provided the resources and the time that has stimulated strong support for change. Unlike many states, Kentucky provided new, dedicated funds for professional development to districts and, most importantly, have continued to provide these resources over time. Too frequently, these investments have been seen as short-term fixes and have been the first target of budget cuts. Kentucky provided $1 per pupil in 1990-91, and by 1995 was sending $23 per pupil to districts. For a four-year period, Kentucky also extended the number of instructional days that schools could use for professional development. The extensive nature of Kentucky's standards-based instructional reforms, coupled with a high stakes accountability system, stimulated a demand for professional development specifically focused on improving student performance and instruction. Rather than a more traditional structure, where central office staff decide on a set of professional development offerings for the entire local system, most professional development in Kentucky has been decided by school-level professional development committees that are involved in all phases of school planning. In some schools, teachers collaborate to identify the curricular weaknesses revealed by KIRIS and plan improvements.

Several states wed professional development to policy-making initiatives. For example, Minnesota made teachers an integral part of assessment development for the state in ways which also had benefits to teachers' knowledge and understanding of reform. California, South Carolina, and other states also brought teachers into assessment development activities.

Among other things, state policymakers considering changes to improve teacher preparation and professional development policies should develop ways to tie reforms in meaningful ways to the academic and pedagogical knowledge teachers need, without being so prescriptive that professional development becomes a mandate that fits poorly with teachers' particular needs. Connecticut, like Kentucky and many other states, eliminated permanent educator licenses and required teachers to earn a particular number of continuing education units (CEUs) for relicensure. However, these policies usually do not require that credit hours be linked to reform goals or to the content areas that teachers teach. Furthermore, many observed that once teachers satisfied these CEU requirements, teachers ceased to participate in professional development activities. In other words, they worked against the goal of promoting teachers' understanding of themselves as professionals needing continuous professional improvement. Changing that mindset is an important next step. One way to do this is to reconfigure the school day and school year to build in time for professional development on a regular basis.

In Closing

I hope these responses provide some concrete examples of ways in which states have approached the tasks of curriculum reform and teacher change. Much remains to be done, and the work of the National Education Goals Panel can play an important role in guiding state policymakers to take the next steps in standards-based reform.


Carlos, L. and M. W. Kirst (1997) California Curriculum Policy in the 1990's: "We don't have to be in front to lead." Draft paper presented at the 1997 American Education Research Association annual meeting, Chicago, IL.

Cohen, D. K., S. Wilson, and H. Hill (1997) "Teaching and Learning Mathematics in California," draft paper presented at the 1997 American Education Research Association annual meeting, Chicago, IL.

Elmore, R. F. (1993) "The Development and Implementation of Large-scale Curriculum Reforms." Paper prepared for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Goertz, M.E., R.E. Floden, J. O'Day (1995). Studies of Educational Reform: Systemic Reform. Volumes I and II. Philadelphia, PA: CPRE.

Loucks-Horsley, S.(1997) "The Role of Teaching and Learning in Systemic Reform: A Focus on Professional Development," draft paper presented at a meeting of the LRDC and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, March, 1997.

Massell, D. and S. Fuhrman (1994) Ten Years of State Education Reform, 1983-1993: Overview with Four Case Studies. Philadelphia, PA: CPRE.

White, P.A., A.C. Porter, A. Gamoran, and J. Smithson (1996) Upgrading High School Math: A Look at Three Transition Courses. Consortium for Policy Research in Education Policy Brief RB-19-June 1996. Philadelphia, PA: CPRE.