You are here


Curriculum Update

Research, trends and developments

Getting Serious With the World

It's not uncommon for Latin Americans to have up to 15 family members, across generations, living under one roof, according to Martin Davis, a senior writer/editor at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

But most American students are not learning this in school, Davis says, and the reason may lie in that two-thirds of states don't maintain adequate standards for instructing world history, specifically Latin American history, according to the institute's recent report, The State of State World History Standards 2006.

Davis explains this is disheartening in part because, "economically, Latin America is becoming huge." "For example, two of the three largest exports of oil that the U.S. gets come from Venezuela and Mexico. And Venezuela is in the hands of a dictator who is not friendly to the U.S. We should care."

Some states aced it, including California, Massachusetts and Virginia having A scores, while other states "bombed it,"-Alaska, Idaho, Missouri and Montana.

"The California curriculum in world history is possibly the best in the nation," says Diane Ravitch, who helped write the standards for the state. Ravitch explains that California requires three years of world history. "In each case, [students] learn about relationships among different nations and cultures," she says. "The focus is history but it is correlated with geography, science, technology and literature."

States that are serious about world history can:

Rewrite standards with those from A-rated states;

Require students pass a test in world history to graduate or include history testing as part of the school accountability system;

Build high school history around the AP syllabus.

-Angela Pascopella

Just Read

Since the Just Read, Florida! Initiative was launched in 2001, more Florida students are reading at or above grade level than ever before. This year, 75 percent of third-graders are reading at or above grade level compared to 57 percent in 2001. Part of the initiative is an annual leadership conference. For the first time, principals brought their reading coaches along as a way to solidify the team and reinforce the idea that the initiative is a school-wide priority, not the responsibility of one person. Executive Director Evan Lefsky says the 3,600 participants focused on differentiated support at the district and school level. "The key is using student achievement data to drive that support," Lefsky says. "It's a reasonable idea, but it's not always done." The goal is to move away from treating everyone the same and toward targeting professional developments to specific needs. -Ann McClure

Report:Students Challenged By Math and Science

High school students in the U.S. are consistently outperformed by those from Asian and some European countries on international assessments of mathematics and science, according to The Condition of Education 2006 report released today by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Fourth-graders, by comparison, score as well or better than most of their international peers, although their counterparts in other countries are gaining ground.

Among the report's findings:

Elementary/Secondary Achievement

U.S. fourth-grade students had higher reading literacy scores than students in 23 of the 34 participating countries.

In mathematics, fourth-graders' performance was better than their peers in 13 countries but lower than 11 others.

In science, students in only three countries

scored higher.

Fourth-graders showed improvements in math and science, with rising scores between 1996 and 2005 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Twelfth-graders' performance in NAEP science declined between 1996 and 2005.

America's Students Today

Nineteen percent of children ages 5-17 speak a language other than English at home.

Minority students make up 43 percent of public school enrollment. -Laura Dianis

Board Approves Controversial Sex-ed

A unanimous decision by the Kyrene School District Governing Board in Tempe, Ariz., to adopt an expanded health education program means that middle school students in the Kyrene Elementary School District will now learn about specific sexual practices in the health curriculum. The new content defines different types of sex, which is unusual at middle school levels, and includes descriptions of sexually transmitted diseases. While some in the community disagree with the additions to the health program-"You're forcing me to talk to my student about terminology I'd rather not discuss," said one parent-board members stressed that parents will decide whether or not to allow individual children to take the classes. However, another parent said that opting out of lessons would not keep children from such content anyway, since they hear the same terms outside of school and need responsible and accurate information.

Board member Ross Robb recognized that giving students the definitions of different sexual practices was indeed a "sensitive issue," but said that it was important to define the meanings of "sexual contact" for today's students.

Kyrene Superintendent David Schauer said the middle school program still has a strong abstinence-only message that "is reinforced even greater with this curriculum" and that parents will have opportunities to voice concerns about the lesson materials at upcoming board meetings.

-Odvard Egil Dyrli

Flag Display Leads to Suspension

A seventh-grade geography teacher in Lakewood, Colorado's Carmody Middle School was recently suspended with pay for refusing to remove flags displayed in his classroom. Eric Hamlin said that the flags of China, Mexico and the United Nations were relevant to the introductory geography unit he teaches at the start of each school year, but district officials felt that the actions violate a state law banning the display of foreign flags on state property. After Hamlin received a written reprimand and the flags were still up the following day, Principal John Schalk escorted the teacher from the building.

A district spokesperson explained that flags can be displayed as part of specific lessons, but not for the duration of a six-week unit, as the teacher evidently intended. Hamlin said he has been flying flags in the same manner for three years with no complaints, even putting up Iraq and Palestinian Territories flags at times. Although he received permission to return to the classroom, Hamlin informed the district that he would not return to Carmody Middle School, since his presence might be a distraction in the wake of recent events. School officials agreed to try and find another teaching position for Hamlin within the district. -OED

Diving Deep

Curious students who might be the next marine biologists or ocean explorers couldn't get enough of a coral reef off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea recently.

High school science students from the U.S., as well as from Great Britain and Saudi Arabia, posed questions to scientists taking part in a Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation expedition to the Farasan Islands Marine Protected Area in May.

The foundation aims to conserve and restore the world's oceans. Khaled bin Sultan is a member of the Royal House of Saudi Arabia.

The expedition was built into their marine science classes over three weeks. Students tracked and analyzed the expedition progress while scientists answered thoughtful questions from students and sent pictures of colorful flora, fauna and fish, videos and science articles to fatten their coral reef knowledge. One of the questions the students asked is, "It appears ... that there is not much damage to the coral reef systems in this area. Is this an indication that the human impacts are less in this area than in places like the Florida Keys, wherein the coral reef systems have significant damage?" True, the scientists said, saying that certain activities are legally limited in the area.

"We're trying to stimulate students to first of all have a connection to the ocean and maybe stimulate them to go after a career in marine science or ocean exploration," says Capt. Philip Renaud, executive director of the foundation that held a similar expedition around the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean eight years ago. "We really feel we need to ingrain the conservation issues in young people."

The five American schools taking part were mainly magnet or charter schools with marine science programs, including Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia.

The reasons for the expedition included generating the first wide-scale habitat maps of the islands and conducting specific coral and fish surveys. -AP

Curriculum Eases Transition for Spanish-Speaking Students

A curriculum from Mexico has come to Palm Beach County Fla. classrooms this year, thanks to a cooperative program with Mexico's Education Ministry to enable Spanish-speaking students in the county to take more than 600 courses in their native language. Lessons in math, reading, social studies and science are provided on DVDs and through satellite hookups, and the content is also offered to Hispanic family members.

Palm Beach administrators believe that the program will benefit many of the nearly 19,300 children enrolled in classes in English for speakers of other languages, and the district is aligning the Mexican curriculum with state and local standards. "This is a great service for our kids," says Margarita Pinkos, a senior policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Education, and "hopefully we can disseminate it throughout the country." -OED