How Standardized Curriculum Short-Circuits Innovation In Education

How Standardized Curriculum Short-Circuits Innovation In Education

by Terry Heick

Innovation is a spark–a catalyst for change.

Education, I think we all can agree, is badly in need of innovation. And transformative innovation at that.

We’ve spoken before about the saboteurs of innovation in education. Sir Ken Robinson, who you’ve likely heard from–and been moved by–at some point in the last several years, recently gave a talk on innovation, in which he identified four key areas for innovation in schools: Curriculum, Teaching, Assessment, and School Culture

We’ll talk more about these in another post, but what really struck me was how honestly he described the impact of scripted and standardized curriculum in the classroom.

This really hit home for me; a scripted ELA curriculum is literally what pushed me out of the classroom, so it’s quite possible that I’m projecting a bit here. Either way, the video is above and excerpts from the transcription appear below.

“We create our life….you made it so. You created your life with the choices you made, the circumstances you responded to, and the paths that you’ve taken. Everybody’s life is a conversation between your disposition and your circumstances. And you compose your life as you go.

The problem in education is that we are educating children almost to lose control of their own biographies. The way you regain control is to understand the depth of your own talents, what makes you unique, and the strengths that lie within you that can be evolved and developed.

So when we talk about transformation, I think it has to be a complete transformation based on these principles, not the ones that currently dominate. Our aim has to be to personalize and customize education, not to make it impersonal and uniform, and there are several areas that has to play out.

One of them is the way we think about curriculum. Most curricula in education are desperately narrow, and rigid.

Second is…teaching. Teaching is…an art form, and great teachers understand that. They understand that their job is not to teach disciplines, it’s to teach students. And, half of what teachers need to know is the art of pedagogy.

And that’s what gets lost in a standardized curricula, where the artistry is replaced by this dead language of delivery.”


As districts struggle to get all the teachers “on the same page”–literally, if possible–innovation may be the least of our concerns as we count the tremendous costs.

Standards, in function, standardize content. Standardized curriculum, in function, standardizes content, scope, sequence, depth, and more, all while eliminating the possibility of personalized, student-centered learning. Standardized curriculum creates curriculum-centered circumstances where the curriculum places itself neatly between the teacher and student. This approach places a premium on content distribution, pace, and “commonness.”

This isn’t (primarily) an argument against scripted curriculum (that’d a post of its own), but rather a quick look at how scripted curricula impacts innovation. Once the content, scope, sequence, depth, and curriculum form are decided beforehand–and are the same for everyone–the opportunity for innovation is gone.

How Standardized Curriculum Short-Circuits Innovation In Education