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Curriculum Update

Research, trends and developments

World History Is Dismal in Most States

The news from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's newly released report, The State of State World History Standards, is disappointing. This first-ever review of state academic standards in world history shows that most states are not setting solid, challenging expectations for students in this area. Although 12 states received grades of A or B, 33 states received grades of D or F. Some of the reasons for the poor grades included standards with no substance; incoherent curricula that included every culture, region and religion; too much focus on Western Europe; virtually no focus on India; and-perhaps most troubling-making world history optional.

Promoting Good Citizenship

It's no secret that political and civic knowledge is lacking in today's students. According to the 1998 NAEP Civics Assessment-the most recent one, since it's offered only once a decade-nearly one-third of high school seniors lack a basic understanding of how American government operates. On the IEA Civic Education Study of 1999-2000, American students ranked 10 out of 28 countries on their knowledge of democracy. The good news is that there are plenty of high-quality civics programs available.



The Rainforest Alliance's online curriculum:

Free, standards-based lesson plans, stories (available in English, Spanish and Portuguese) and projects on the importance of protecting the world's natural resources. Also provides opportunities for direct action.

Grades K-6.

The Center for Civic Education's We the People:

Project Citizen: a U.S. Dept. of Education-funded program that teaches how to monitor and infl uence public policy. Classes research a local public policy problem, evaluate alternative solutions, develop their own solution and try to pass it. Grades 6-8.

First Amendment Schools:

A collaboration between the First Amendment Center and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development that is developing models to encourage all schools to become laboratories of democratic freedom. Nearly 100 K-12 schools (more than 70,000 students) are involved.


The Rainforest Alliance's online curriculum:

"The finished product of this interdisciplinary unit was extremely comprehensive. The lessons interfaced literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, art and music. The result was astounding, motivating and well done, evidencing collaboration, satisfaction and effective learning."

-Linda J. Richardson, principal,

Ann Street School, Newark, N.J.

The Center for Civic Education's We the People:

"My students changed the local animal-control policy from allowing officers to shoot dogs to not allowing them to even carry guns. They interacted with our government, learned that there are two sides to everything and the importance of paying attention to the news. The independence and ownership they took on this was amazing."

-Melinda Meehan, sixth-grade teacher,

Roy G. Eversole Middle School,

Hazard, Ky.

First Amendment Schools:

"In 2004, our high school implemented a new governance model based on democratic town meetings. At first, the kids didn't really know how to act, and neither did the teachers. But the growth of the leadership among students has been amazing. Kids who would have never done so in the past have stepped forward. And four of the six clusters decided on their own to take the time to build in some leadership training."

-Brian Daniels, teacher,

Hudson High School, Hudson, Mass.

Physics Is a Blast [off] in Houston

In May, 1,500 juniors and seniors from the Houston Independent School District explored the world of physics with NASA astronauts and rocket scientists. The event, called the BP Physics Challenge, was a partnership between HISD, British Petroleum and Space Center Houston.

The students spent two days with mentors from BP, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, learning to apply physics to real-world problems. Among the activities, students determined the mass of the Earth, learned about acceleration of G-forces and calculated the trajectory of the model rockets they built.

The goals were to let students have fun using physics and see its applications. "We hope students will make the connection that it's worth going through tough courses because you can do cool stuff with what you learn," says Patricia Tribe, director of education for Space Center Houston.

A key to the project's success was the teacher and mentor training conducted by Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason. In addition, Tryggvason created a workbook.

In addition to the experiments, Shirley Neeley, the Texas commissioner of education, spoke to the students, encouraging them to pursue science careers. "We wanted the kids to see that experiments are fun and can lead to great careers," says Puls. "We wanted them to realize that they can do this and it is exciting."

Career Education Gets a Promotion

To combat high school graduates leaving school with few of the skills needed for college or workplace success, some states are trying to reform career education.

In May, the Florida legislature passed a bill requiring one course in career and education planning to be completed in 7th or 8th grade. "We want to make students aware of different occupations, salaries and requirements," says Cheri Pierson Yecke, chancellor of K-12 public schools for the Florida Department of Education.

A key to the course is teaching students to use the Florida Academic Counseling and Tracking for Students Web site (, an online advising system that lets them determine career objectives, learn about higher-ed opportunities and apply to college online. Students will also use the ePersonal Education Planner to map out high school courses. Yecke stresses that they aren't trying to get 13-year-olds to commit to a life plan. They just want kids to be aware of what's out there.

Pennsylvania is working to adopt statewide career education standards. According to the Secretary of Education Gerald L. Zahorchak, the standards focus on career awareness and preparation, career acquisition, career retention and advancement, and entrepreneurship. "We want our kids to know and have the skills to acquire and keep jobs, as well as how to create jobs," says Zahorchak. "Our job will be to build the design principles to make easy work of integrating these standards into basic education."

Alisha Dixon Hyslop, assistant director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education, applauds these efforts to reform career education. "The last two years of high school are too late for people to start thinking about post-high school goals," she says. "Kids don't have to be forced to make a career decision early on, but the more exposure they have to different opportunities and to things that make classwork relevant, the better prepared they'll be to make those decisions when the time comes."


U.S. citizens of every ethnic group, income and education level, and political and ideological persuasion were asked their thoughts on teaching writing in schools. Here are some of their thoughts.


say writing should be taught across all subjects and grade levels


strongly agree with this statement: "A person needs to be able to write well to advance in almost any career or job today."


say all future teachers should receive training in the teaching of writing


agree the schools in their community already do a good job of teaching writing

Source: National Writing Project,