Friday, April 28, 2006

Looking critically at curriculum

You've probably noticed that JIS Topics talks a lot about curriculum. It's a HUGE subject in education. (In fact, it's one of the four things schools can focus on to "remove luck from the education equation.") But many readers may not feel qualified to talk about curriculum -- or worse, they've been told by educators that they lack the knowledge to be part of the conversation.

Well, guess what? We all, as parents, are qualified! Here's why the old mindset that says parents shouldn't be part of the curriculum discussion are "so yesterday":
  • As parents, we see the successes (and sometimes failures) of the implemented curriculum on a daily basis. Just think about your child's homework, the projects and workshares at school, the student work you see at parent-teacher's all evidence of a school's curriculum. You can see whether your child is engaged and excited about a subject, or if there's a disconnect. While no curriculum will be perfect for every child, alarm bells should go off if more than a few parents see a disconnect at home.
  • For parents coming from the United States, the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) has openned up the world of curriculum, giving them a wealth of information about their school. The new-found freedom of choice in their childrens' education has brought parents to the education policy table.
  • Parents in the community, themselves, are an often-untapped resource on specific subject matters. Think of the accountant (math), the geologist (earth science), the writer (language arts), the medical researcher (biology), the anthropologist (social studies), the engineer (physics)....our community has people who know what's important in their subject areas. That makes them rich curriculum resources!
  • Parents now have a multitude of resources to learn from on curriculum. Just check out some of the following links, which help parents discover what's being taught:
The Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Compendium of Curriculum and Benchmarks -- a searchable database of "best practice" curricula in each subject area from kindergarten through 12th grade.'s Benchmarks and Samples of curriculum for English and math. This group, founded by a group of US governors and business leaders, has worked with universities and businesses to establish a set of standards that aims to prepare students for post-secondary education and high-performance jobs. It's controversial, but interesting.

Core Knowledge Foundation's website, with information and data on the importance of focusing on content in curriculum design.

The Center for Performance Assessment put together this VERY helpful webpage that lists links to every US state's education standards and curriculum frameworks.

The last link is particularly interesting for parents who are coming from -- or perhaps returning at some point -- to the United States. One of the outcomes of the No Child Left Behind Act is that states each have established standards that schools must achieve to receive federal education funding. This is a huge deal -- and for parents, it's yielded a bucketload of information. Some states (such as Texas) even include sample tests that they use to assess student ability.

Yikes. That's a lot of stuff -- too much for any one parent to read and absorb! But what this points out is that, as a community, we ALL can play a role in discussing curriculum at JIS. There's no Perfect Curriculum, but there always are ways to grow, inquire, and improve. The question is, how do we start that discussion at JIS?


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