Curriculum is more and more aligned. Grade level expectations, common assessments, professional learning communities, Common Core standards and easily sharable course content makes it easier than ever for every school to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

What makes a school a reliable means to student success?

The best schools take no chances at helping every student succeed. The best schools prioritize everything: highly competitive teacher and administrator salaries, small class sizes, abundant technology, frequently updated facilities, loads of clubs and sports and always-available support specialists. Which of those makes a school reliably successful? No one really knows. If your child gets a radically different experience in sophomore English from your neighbor’s child, one thing you can be sure of is that the curriculum isn’t aligned.

Curricular leaders are almost organically moving toward greater alignment. Common Core is a powerful example of this. In the 1990s I saw departments that had difficulty agreeing on what novels were must-reads for juniors. If you can’t agree on what novels to read, you’re surely not going to agree on the best way to teach those novels. Things have gotten better, but an old structural tension still exists.

There's a tension between local control of schools and the guarantees and viabilities of the best schools’ curriculum. School board members are elected to represent the interests of their constituents. One local school is supposed to be able to have a curriculum more responsive to its population than a neighboring school. This runs directly counter to the idea of state or national standards. The tension between local control and widely-held standards is a challenge for school leaders.

Bridging the gap between local control and national standards is a challenge for school leaders. The only logical way the system can work is with effective school leaders balancing local and global curricular priorities. In terms of people, school leaders need to balance school board members’ priorities with teachers’ priorities.

The book Organizing Schools for Improvement took a strong position that is playing out heavily in Chicago Public Schools and nationally today. The way to a guaranteed and viable curriculum is through principals. Principals must be instructional leaders with the power to run their schools independent of oversight from either district-level managers or school boards. The way to a guaranteed and viable curriculum and school improvement: empower principals as instructional leaders.