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State Chiefs Endorse New Curriculum Priorities

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Point Clear, Ala--The Council of Chief State School Officers (ccsso), meeting here last week, called for a rearrangement of curriculum priorities, dividing subjects into the categories of "common learning" and "special learning."

The move marks the first time that the nation's state superintendents and commissioners of education have distinguished between academic subjects based on their relative importance to students, according to Hilda L. Smith, director of the council's project on humanities in the schools.

"We have a policy statement that the chiefs adopt as an organization and which they as members are supposed to encourage the implementation of in their states," explained Ms. Smith, who worked with the council's committee on instruction. "More than anything, it's an agreement on set policies.

"Policy statements before, in terms of curriculum, had a number of items that were included. As new fields such as energy education and environmental education were introduced, ... no distinctions were made as to how much time should be spent on each subject. We're trying to put some structure on it."

The state chiefs will work with their state boards of education and local school districts to encourage "a more focused curriculum," Ms. Smith said.

The common-learning section, which the chiefs said should take top priority for all students, includes basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics, along with social studies, humanities, science, and economics. The section was originally called "core common learning," but the name was changed after some superintendents objected that endorsement of a "core curriculum" might be perceived as "dictating state and local policy by a national organization," Ms. Smith said.

Social studies, a term new to the council's curriculum definitions, would include subjects such as American history and government, multicultural education, citizenship education, and "education for global interdependence."

The humanities would include such disciplines as English, literature, art, and music. The mathematics and science sections were added to the top-priority subjects for schools, with the council endorsing comprehensive programs for both at the high-school level.

"They indeed saw those as the more central subjects which need to be taught first, but not instead of the other subjects," Ms. Smith said.

The special-learning section, to be given second priority, includes vocational education, career education, computer literacy, health and physical education, environmental education, and energy education.

In other action, the council also approved a resolution calling on the Congress to approve a new version of the National Defense Education Act, which, beginning in the late 1950's, provided federal financial support for teacher education and curriculum improvement in science, mathematics, and foreign languages.

David Hornbeck, Maryland's chief state school officer and chairman of the council's committee on education, urged the school chiefs to approve the resolution so that "the staff can work to get this legislation implemented."

The chiefs, along with several other education organizations, are asking for money to provide incentives for people to become mathematics and science teachers, to pay for teacher-inservice programs, and to pay for equipment and youth activities.

Mr. Hornbeck said increased attention to those subjects will help both businesses and the military.

Earlier in the three-day conference, John Porter, president of Eastern Michigan University, proposed that the schools strengthen their ties with businesses by establishing a Career Examination Board similar to the College Board.

Mr. Porter said that such a board, composed of business and industry leaders, would offer a test to high-school graduates who do not plan to attend college. Students passing the test would be offered a three-year apprenticeship with one of the businesses needing their skills.

Mr. Porter said the program could reduce dropout rates by giving students who do not plan to go to college an incentive to complete high school. About 65 percent of students do not attend college, he said. He also proposed that the federal government provide incentives, in the form of direct payments or tax breaks, for businesses to participate in the program. Mr. Porter said he and others are drafting legislation to establish such incentives.

But the new ccsso president, Calvin M. Frazier of Colorado, said the idea of making federal payments to businesses during the current economic crisis is "unrealistic." He said he believes stronger links between education and business can be developed without public funds.

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