Even done well, differentiated instruction won't work without a curriculum

I have always been suspicious of differentiated instruction if only because, like its kissin' cousin customized learning, it sounds too good to be true.? But reading a short essay by differentiated instruction [DI] pioneer Carol Tomlinson in a recent New York Times internet post, I am more convinced than ever that the thing is risky.

Tomlinson herself says that DI is just ?a tool for planning instruction? and ?like all tools, it can be applied elegantly or poorly.?? But it is her admission that content counts that stands out:

The critical variable in this debate? ?is not really differentiation vs. special classrooms for advanced learners. It's the quality of content a nation is willing to support for all its students.

Exactly.? The problem, however, is that as a nation we remain fearful of curriculum ? the Common Core movement is a step forward, but it is just a first step ? and thus tools like DI, because so few schools have rigorous and content-rich curricula, will be misused far more often than they will be appropriately, much less elegantly, applied. In fact, just as we make people take a test before issuing them a driver's license, we might consider a law forbidding a school from putting any teacher behind the DI wheel unless the school has a certificate of coherent and comprehensive curriculum.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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