Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Does Everyone Need to Learn?

The characteristics of the family in which children are raised have an enormous effect on the kinds of formative experiences they enjoy, which, in turn, direct the trajectory of the remainder of their lives in dramatic ways. Children born into wealthy families have access to rich formative experiences, which lead to a greater variety of opportunities during adult life than children born into poorer families. But this hardly seems fair: Why should opportunity for success in adult life depend so much on the luck of birth, irrespective of natural ability or personal motivation? In recent decades, the international community has pushed for universal schooling as a means of equalizing, in part, the formative experiences of children in richer and poorer families. Unfortunately, many states find themselves in the unhappy position of having too few resources to provide every child with the lavish education they might desire. As a result, it has become increasingly important for states and other educational providers to seek out ways of maximizing educational benefit given limited resources, while still achieving the opportunity-equalizing function we assign to schooling.

This suggests the question: Is there some guideline curriculum planners can use to reduce the cost incurred by a given curriculum without jeopardizing the power of their schools to reduce the opportunity gap between rich and poor? Is there some minimal set of content to which everyone ought to have educational access? The international community has yet to establish a detailed answer to this question. International discussions about education have certainly underscored the great importance of educational and curricular quality, but descriptions of what counts as quality content have remained rather vague. Moreover, the common indicators used in international monitoring reports are unrelated to the quality of curricular content. Since access to schooling is nearly irrelevant if the quality of what students learn in school is insufficient, the international community needs to begin monitoring curricular content, in addition to the current indicators. This can be facilitated by an analytical device---a schema for basic education curricula---used in the evaluation and comparison of curricula in diverse contexts.

Read more in my Ed.M. thesis! I also have audio for a 10 minute overview and a 1 hour presentation with discussion under "Talks and Posters" in the Repository.

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