Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Thinking about curriculum

I'm sitting with my son, Erik, who's just informed me that the topic of today's blog should be "what should your youngest kid be doing in P.E.?" Apparently, the 4th grade today practiced for the "pacer run" (for the uninitiated, a test of your child's endurance involving running back and forth in the gym), and a relay race. Erik wants to play dodgeball -- plain and simple. Aye, carumba. Well, at least Erik's understanding the value of the internet and public opinion. Kinda scary.

But honestly, I couldn't care less about P.E. at the moment (no offense meant to P.E. teachers!) because my mind's on another topic. I'm thinking about curriculum. The reason? The Parent Survey Report JIS parents received just before spring break.

Now this was a while ago, so you may be scratching your head. But to remind you, here's the question that dealt with curriculum (at least at the elementary level): "Please rate how well [insert your campus] is doing in terms of helping your child learn in each of the subjects listed below." The survey went on to list curricular areas (and in some subjects, sub-categories), such as language arts, math, social studies, science, music. P.E., art, etc.

As I read this question, I felt backed into a corner as a parent. To give an answer -- from excellent to poor -- we'd have to have something to go by. Homework, tests, a portfolio....something. We'd also have to know to what we were comparing the JIS experience. For example, we'd have to know what our home country or previous international-school curriculum looked like, and how it was delivered in the classroom. That's the only way we'd know "how well" JIS is doing.

On the other hand, we could have replied "Don't Know" to the survey question. But that makes me feel stupid. What parent, after all, doesn't know how well their school is doing in teaching their children? To admit that we don't know is to reveal that we're not aware of what's happening in school. Who wants to do that?

(Honestly, we most often went the "don't know" route, because it seemed bogus to answer any other way. We don't see evidence of how well our kids are learning speaking skills, for example, or social studies. We hope for the best, but even after report cards and parent-teacher conferences, we're left to figure out how well JIS is doing compared to what we might reasonably expect at our home-country school. That's hard, and we're pretty clueless in most subjects!)

For the most part, the PIE survey results on these curriculum questions hovered around 4 out of 5 -- which equates to "agree" on the scale given. I guess that means that, on the average, parents agree that JIS is doing well in teaching their kids the various subjects. That's not bad at all. But maybe the results would have been different (better or worse -- I don't know) if parents hadn't been backed into the corner by the survey question.

Here's what parents need to answer questions about the strength of a particular school's curriculum:
  • They need to see their children's school work (homework, graded exams and written work, portfolios, for example)
  • They need to know what the current school's curriculum is, on paper**
  • They need to understand the curriculum at their home-country school or previous/future international school.
By now, you're probably shaking your head, wondering who's got time -- or expertise, if we're being honest -- for all that? Frankly, I wouldn't know a good math curriculum if it hit me over the head. And art curriculum? idea. The depths of my lame-ness knows no bounds on most subjects.

So how do great parents -- and a great school, for that matter -- rate "how well the school is doing in terms of helping your child learn" in the various subjects? That is the single most important question that anyone will ever ask in education.

The door is open for your thinking. And this blog will keep thinking about it for tomorrow.....

** Theoretically, you can find the current JIS curriculum binder in your campus' library. Hopefully, JIS will put its curriculum on the JIS ParentNet soon. It would be really helpful, and probably more complete/up-to-date than the current binder system. But even then, it's important to remember that what's on paper isn't necessarily what children are experiencing in the classroom. But that's the subject of another posting....or 100.


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