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It’s (Past) Time for a USA National Curriculum

Let’s be reasonable, not political, for a change!

Farmers in Georgia grow different types of crops than do farmers in New Hampshire. Ditto for California.  People in New England call a carbonated drink “soda,” while people in Michigan call it “pop.” People in Texas eat Tex-Mex while people in San Francisco eat sushi. 

But 2+2 is 4 in Georgia, California, New Hampshire, Michigan – and even Texas. Montana has the same water cycle as does Louisiana and Arizona – though each region’s weather conditions cause the water-cycle to play out with different characteristics. Captain Ahab plays the same role in Moby Dick, whether the book is read in North Dakota, Washington DC or Washington state. And, students and teachers in Oregon, Indiana, or North Carolina will all agree that the War of 1812 occurred in 1812.

Now, after years of struggle, there have emerged two nationally accepted standards for what students need to learn: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Lots of folks from all across the country have gotten together and hammered out a set of standards for math, English  and science. While everyone can find something to not like about the CCSS and NGSS, since indeed they were developed by consensus, there is agreement from a whole lot of folks that CCSS and NGSS provide solid frameworks for learning in K-12 – national frameworks, frameworks that work for schools in Georgia and for schools in Vermont, frameworks that work for schools in New Mexico and schools in Maine, etc., etc., etc.

Standards are not curricula. Someone and/or somebody must create learning resources that align with the frameworks so that teachers, when they come to school, know what instructional activities need to be engaged in on a daily basis. The question then is this: WHO should develop those learning resources – those curricula?

Now, in an era of diminishing educational resources, we simply must ask the question: does it make sense for each state to develop its own math, science, and English curricula – curricula that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and/or NGSS?  Indeed, we have heard tales of INDIVIDUAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS themselves or even individual schools developing curricula that align with the CCSS!

We ask again: Is it REALLY a good use of diminishing resources to have each state – nay individual school districts in a state – develop the massive amounts of curricula needed to cover CCSS and/or NGSS?

How did it come to pass that each state is developing its own curricula? Simple: it’s written into the United States constitution that individual states have dominion over education.

  • “The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Since education is not mentioned in the Constitution, it is one of those powers reserved to the states. Of course, the United States Supreme Court can declare that something not mentioned in the Constitution is so closely related to something that is mentioned in the Constitution that the unmentioned power is a fundamental interest, which rises to constitutional protection. So far, the Supreme Court has not declared that education is a fundamental interest. Thus, states have plenary, or absolute, power in the area of education.” From Russell Dennis’ website.

We are not, in this blog post, going to dive into the mire of politics. But we must note that laws change all the time to address changes in how we live. So, it’s time to change the law.

It simply makes no sense to have national learning standards but have state/local curricula that are aligned with those standards. 

Yes, there are of course regional/state differences – but are those differences essential or secondary? In a word problem about crops, a teacher in Georgia might use peaches while a teacher in California might use strawberries.  In Texas, a teacher might count cattle, while in Montana a teacher might count sheep.  Those are secondary tweaks that highlight local differences and we should celebrate those local differences.

It’s past time to put politics aside and think about our children… and about the diminishing resources that are available for educating our children. States are finding the money to create curricula; school districts are finding the money to create curricula. But those precious dollars could be better used for smaller classes, more technology, and more innovation!

We need to tell politicians to stop using our children as pawns in their political games! Let’s be reasonable, not political, for a change.

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at