Monday, May 12, 2008

Narrowing the Curriculum

From oldandrew at Scenes from the Battleground:

We don’t need to consider whether French is more important than Latin, or whether biology is better for children than history for it to be possible to identify a failure in education where large number of those leaving the system are unable to read, write or behave like civilised human beings.

Recent national education reform efforts here in the United States that require school accountability for student outcomes in reading and mathematics have received a considerable amount of push-back, some of which has taken the form of complaints about a narrowing of the curriculum, saying that students need well-rounded educational experiences and that testing only in reading and math forces schools to myopically hammer these skills to the exclusion of other important lessons. I've never found the complaint convincing: Schools that successfully get students to learn to read and do math should have no problems with their students' passing mandatory external assessments, and can go on their merry way teaching as many other subjects as they like; schools that can't even get their students to read have major problems that need to be addressed before we can even begin to consider what kind of well-rounded curriculum students should learn (since they aren't really learning anything at all at this point, after all).

What's really going on behind the outcry against trying to teach students to read and do math? I have a sinking suspicion that much of it has to do with (a) incompetent administrators who respond to national and state reforms by imposing inane requirements on teachers who are otherwise doing a fairly good job and (b) teachers and administrators in failing schools who don't particularly like the fact that there are now consequences for that failure. As for the latter, we've known for half a century that our schools are failing far too many low-income and minority students, and yet have failed to make much progress in correcting the problem. It's about time to expect that students leave school able to read, write, and behave like civilized human beings---if achieving that means teaching fewer subjects in certain schools for the time being, so be it.

1 comment:

Michael Culbertson said...

How timely: This debate is ongoing in the UK, too, it seems.