How Curriculum is Shaped by Standards and Policy: Navigating Challenging Curriculum Topics in Challenging Times
The past two years have seen a significant shift in both national and regional conversations about curriculum. Not long ago, the topic of school curriculum was lucky to make the back pages of the news, but now it seems like new headlines are being made weekly. Combined with social media feeds, it is easy to get the alarmist impression that curriculum is changing rapidly, radically and without parental consent.
In Ardsley, nothing could be further from the truth. We have a long tradition of rigorous and student-centered curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking, creative expression of ideas and the examination of topics from multiple perspectives. In a recent working group that was part of the 2021-22 District Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a team of faculty, parents, students and community members explored how curriculum is created in Ardsley as well as how that work is the ongoing responsibility of trained faculty guided by State and National Standards as well as District Policy.
The Curriculum is Standards Driven:
All curriculum in Ardsley can be linked back to State and National curriculum standards documents that speak to the content and approach to topics K-12. Standards are created to create rigorous but age-appropriate outcomes for all learners. Standards are NOT curriculum in the same way nutritional guidelines are not a meal plan or a menu. Rather, standards shape curriculum and assessment decisions in conjunction with BOE Policy. Perhaps the most important skill found within most standards is to teach students to “reason from evidence,” and not just learn static facts. Underneath the links to standards are examples from ELA and from Social Studies that illustrate a second important underlying goal of all standards to teach students to understand a subject from multiple points of view.
NYS Standards Links:
Other Standards of Interest:
Excerpt from the ELA Standards: Outcome Goal to be College and Career Ready
“They come to understand other perspectives and cultures. Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively. Through reading great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, students can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own.”
Excerpt of One Strand from Social Studies: “Comparison and Contextualization”
K: Identify similarities and/or differences between him/her and others.
1st: Identify similarities and/or differences between him/her and others with detail.
2nd: Identify similarities and/or differences between his/her community and other communities.
3rd: Identify multiple perspectives by comparing and contrasting points of view in differing world communities.
4th: Identify multiple perspectives from a historical event
Curriculum is Shaped by Policy
A policy is NOT a curriculum, but it does shape curriculum decisions. Policies are a combination of state and local decision-making. Many of these policies are mandated by state law and have a long history at Ardsley dating back a decade or more. In times of controversy, Policy can help a school district explain to families what, why, when, and how subjects are taught. The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and Board of Central Education Services (BOCES) also work in New York to help guide districts in policy formation and policy review. All BOE Policies can be found at this LINK on our website. Policy creation and amendment are in the purview of board governance. The public does not vote on or have the authority to change policy except through the actions of the Board.
Curriculum is an ongoing process, not a fixed thing. In recent years, there has been increased discussion in the national press about “parental control” in schooling. Some of this has been fueled by fears that the curriculum is changing rapidly and radically when it has not. While we encourage our teachers to be creative and to innovate, change in Ardsley is thoughtful, measured and done collectively.
Below are several policies that shape curriculum decisions in Ardsley. Alongside each, is a brief explanation of the policy.
Policy Number and Link:
The Teaching of Controversial Issues and Objections to Instructional Materials
This policy describes the nature of controversial topics, the reason for teaching them in school, student's rights, and teacher responsibilities. It also describes the process by which parents can raise questions and concerns with regard to specific topics or how topics are presented.
This policy describes how the BOE approves certain specific instructional materials- textbooks and electronics- as well as how residents have equal access to these resources even if they are not “registered” students.
Patriotism, Citizenship, and Human Rights
This policy is also directed toward civics education. It names specific human rights topics that must be covered- including the Holocaust and slavery. It also names one date, Sept 17 that must be recognized. Finally, it is the only policy that gives a specific age (8) to when certain subjects must be taught.
Civility, Citizenship, and Character Education/Interpersonal Violence Prevention education.
This policy outlines the rationale and expectations for the curriculum to address how we create a welcoming and safe environment. It expressly mentions much of the language that is described in many NYSED documents in relation to people of different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientations, genders, or sexes. The concept of “violence prevention” is a relatively recent addition to policies like this. It has been further strengthened by other anti-bullying legislation called the Dignity Act.
Religious Expression in the Instructional Program
This policy explains why, how and when religious holidays can be part of the curriculum. This includes music with religious connections. It does not discuss which holidays or events are to be recognized.
Ardsley UFSD Collection Development Policy
This outlines some specific steps for library collections.
Other Policies Related to DEI but NOT directly to curriculum and instruction:
3410, Code of Conduct
3420, Non-Discrimination and Harassment
7550 Dignity for All Students
7552 Student Gender Identity
7554 Bullying and Harassment Prevention and Intervention