Ross E. Mitchell and Lisa S. Romero
The intent of this chapter is to inform, rather than prescribe reform, by directing attention to education’s core, where teaching and learning engage the curriculum. Behind the churn of policy talk, and central to the constitutional mandates creating mass compulsory schooling, lies the fundamental core of education: teachers, students, and the curriculum. At this level, we selectively consider evolving educational practices and educators’ successes, failures, and challenges in providing quality education for all students. First, we describe the mission and responsibilities of public education, the purpose for which the system was created, emphasizing its vastness and diversity. Contextualizing thusly, we turn to the fundamental core of education—students, teachers, curriculum, and the interactions among them. We open with student diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and capabilities, and how varying circumstances in relation to these attributes have affected access and outcomes. We follow with the composition and qualifications of the teaching workforce, noting problems of cultural incongruity between the largely white, middle class teacher population and the diverse student body, the challenges of classroom management, and the importance of relationship building. Next, we highlight curriculum, including curriculum diversity and breadth, implications of tested versus untested curriculum, tracking, assessment practice, and teachers as curriculum generalists versus specialists. We consider how students connect to the curriculum, their motivation and engagement, and their experiences with pacing and rigor. Finally, we take on the full triad, using issues of tracking and the hidden curriculum to illustrate contemporary problems of practice.