It’s time to rationalize school curricula

Central School, Livingston, New Jersey
We spend more money per student than any other country and our kids are dumber.

From Wall Street Journal, JANUARY 26, 2011: Students Score Poorly on Science Test.

Obviously, throwing more money at school boards isn’t the answer. Something is fundamentally wrong with the American public school system. In Broward County, the school board vacuums up more tax revenue than any other government entity and wastes millions on corruption and mis-management. I’ve lost track of how many school board members are under indictment for accepting bribes from contractors and which federal agency is investigating them.

My sad experience jumping from one school system to another

I have something of an axe to grind on this topic. My family moved constantly when I was in school: from 4th grade until 10th grade, I never completed the school year in the same school in which I had begun the school year. Some of these moves were within the same school district, and some were across state lines. The moves between states were the hardest for my schooling: each move meant totally different teachers, curriculum, texts, etc. After the third or fourth move, I was completely lost. I was always the new kid in school. I fell from being one of the best students in my 4th grade class to being one of the worst in my 10th grade class. By that time, I had become interested in (obsessed with might be a better description) electronics and amateur radio, and since school was such a mess, I treated it like a nuisance. This is not a formula for success.

In any country other than the United States and Canada, a kid could move from province to province with little disruption of his/her education, since most countries follow one national curriculum.

If schools across the country followed the same curriculum, these moves would probably have been much easier for me. At least the texts and curricula would have been consistent, so I’d have had a prayer of keeping up with the coursework. Today, families are more mobile than ever: parents who care about their kids’ education would want to provide as much educational continuity as possible when they’re forced to move.

I understand the desire to keep school curricula under local control, as they’ve always been in the United States. But what we’re doing isn’t working. Look at these poor showings of American students compared to students in other countries. It’s scandalous: in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades our kids score toward the bottom in math and science when compared to other countries’ students . . . and we’re spending more money!

This makes no sense. Who’s to blame? Teachers unions? Maybe. Petty politicians who control local school boards? Possibly. Bloated administrations? Probably. I found a report that claims that GW Bush’s No Child Left Behind program resulted in states’ lowering standards. Yikes!

Common Core State Standards Initiative website

There is hope.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is partially supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, seems to be our best hope. I’m pleased to see that most states have adopted this initiative and have agreed to implement it by 2015. Maybe some of the cash that we all spend on Microsoft products will bail us out, rather than just pay for more insourcing via H-1B visas (of which Bill Gates has been fond). That would be ironic!


6 thoughts on “It’s time to rationalize school curricula”

  1. Hey,

    I read your post on the Khan Academy site which led me to your blog. One of the ideas I’ve had for standardizing curricula involves the use of “atomic concepts” – similar to Khan’s modules – that can be moved around digitally so that a child moving from one system to another would be able to keep all that he or she had learnt previously and simply complete any missing modules. Take a look on my website.

    Best wishes,

    Victor Salmon
    Project Free Education


  2. One method of raising test scores is making headlines in Atlanta (and Philly is probably not far behind — cheating has taken place there in at least 2 schools uncovered thus far).

    “Teaching to the test” has been criticized by many (although I favor standardization) but it’s sad to see this that while we were taught not to cheat, here it’s the teachers and principals doing the cheating!

    At least 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

    And in Philly:


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