A long time ago (1979), the movie “All That Jazz” was released. It featured a song called “Everything Old Is New Again.” So true. Mom and dad jeans seem to be making a comeback, baggy suits have come, gone—and are back—and don’t even get me started on bell bottoms. Modern rappers sample old-school rappers sampling 1970s songs. I ride a motorcycle whose selling point is that it looks just like a bike made in 1969. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention America’s most popular sport, the NFL.

Of course, everyone knows the Kansas City Chiefs are building a dynasty, having been to three of the last four Super Bowls and winning two. The Chiefs hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 50 years. And for students of the game, in both modern victories, the team used plays straight out of football history to make big gains. In 2020, it was a spinner play out of the 1950s single-wing formation. Vince Lombardi’s influence was present in 2023, with a Packer power sweep left.

Education has pendulum swings as well. During my career of over 40 years, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) started a disruption to the profession that led to greater accountability, a focus on underserved and lower-performing students, and improved diagnosis and prescription of educational needs. But every significant change carries unintended consequences. NCLB also led to teaching to the test, less emphasis on science and career and technical education programs, and more standardization of curriculum.

The standardization of curriculum made sense, given the emphasis on standardized testing. Students needed to learn the skills they would be tested on. Tests were developed based on state standards, which were set based on national standards. But in the process, something got lost.

Back in the day, as we old-timers are wont to say, the curriculum was a local endeavor. Yes, it was often based on textbooks, but districts used processes that were locally based. Early in my career, we had curriculum committees for each subject. Those committees included local parents, staff, and community members. It was challenging work, but it allowed these groups of people to have a deeper understanding of not just what was going to be taught but why. With the advent of national and state standards and tests, those committees were replaced with a top-down system of the state deciding what would be taught based upon national standards. For nearly two generations, curriculum development became simply unpacking state standards.

Is it any wonder that parents and communities don’t have any depth of understanding of what their children are being taught in school? Ironically, some solutions to this issue are taking a national-or state-level view instead of thinking about how to return decisions and processes to the local level.

This issue of ASBJ recognizes innovative approaches to education. Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid is considered one of the most innovative coaches in the NFL. He’s the same guy who ran a 1950s single-wing formation and a 1960s student body left power sweep in two Super Bowls. An innovation worth considering is how we could continue to demand accountability for the education of all students of NCLB, with local-level decision-making that includes the community, staff, and parents. Returning curriculum development and approval to the local level is one way to do that. Everything old is new again.

John Heim is the executive director and CEO of NSBA.

Around NSBA

A group of high school students paint on canvases during an art class.

2023 Magna Awards Grand Prize Winners

School districts rethink and reinvent education for their students, staff, and communities.