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Study Group To Develop Core Curriculum for High Schools

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Phoenix--More than 60 school board members, administrators, and teachers representing 19 high schools from Towson, Md., to Ventura, Calif., are working together in an informal network to try to figure out what core courses "will prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century."

The network, established last year under the aegis of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ascd), has undertaken as its first order of business a year-long study aimed at redefining general-education requirements in participants' schools.

Meeting here last week for the second of three conferences, the network members--chosen from a cross section of urban, suburban, and rural schools with diverse student composition, curricula, and graduation requirements--compared notes on the first six months of their study.

The participating schools were chosen from among 150 that responded to an invitation extended by the ascd last winter to examine the question of what instructional experiences should be fundamental to all students.

The organizers required each school to be represented by a team consisting of a school-board member, a superintendent or assistant superintendent, a principal, and a teacher. According to Gordon Cawelti, executive director of the ascd, the organization imposed this requirement to ensure that everyone in the district on every curricular level became involved in the examination and redesign of the local programs of instruction.

Variey of Curricula

The group first met last summer at Wingspread, the Johnson Foundation conference center in Racine, Wis., to present a variety of ways of looking at curricula and to discuss how to organize their efforts over the course of the year, Mr. Cawelti said.

As soon as team members returned to their schools from the summer conference, he added, they set up local advisory councils of teachers, parents, administrators, and students to help them identify the problem areas in their current programs and devise possible solutions.

These preliminary findings by the local advisory councils were discussed by delegates last week.

They also aired their common concern that the arts, humanities, and sciences be taught in conjunction with the basics.

"This is not a back-to-basics movement," Mr. Cawelti remarked. "There is more to the well-educated person than the basics. We should still teach people to be good citizens and how to apply science to the world of technology. The whole success of this endeavor turns on whether a local school can improve itself."

The critical issue in the project, Mr. Cawelti told a reporter, "is whether these schools can successfully accomplish a re-examination of the existing curriculum and then design one that is more appropriate to students facing the 21st century as citizens, workers, and parents.''

O. L. Davis Jr., ascd president-elect and a professor of education at the University of Texas in Austin, said the network was formed in an effort to answer the growing criticism of public education by improving methods of delivering general education.

Judy Nelson, a teacher and administrator at Buena Park High School in Buena Park, Calif., said the idea of a core curriculum has faltered since the late 1960's when general education changed to become more "relevant" to students' interests.

'Junk-Food Diet'

"We asked students what they wanted, and they wanted a junk-food diet," Mrs. Nelson said. "It was not what they needed. We need to redefine what kids need to be successful."

The potential success of the group, Mr. Davis believes, lies in its diversity and in the financial commitment of each member's home district, which pays the entire cost of the representatives' participation.

"Local districts still have the option of rejecting our conclusions," Mr. Davis said. "But local districts are more likely to adopt a concept that they took part in developing."

When the delegates convene again at Wingspread in July, they expect to report on their completed findings, to discuss suggested alternatives to the current core curricula in their schools, and to draw up the rudiments of new programs that schools can begin to implement in the 1982-83 school year.

Mr. Davis said members hope to spread the influence of the group by forming regional networks that will utilize what they have learned from the national exchange of ideas.

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