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Study Finds Wide Variety in Curriculum Planning

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The results of a project in which curriculum-evaluation groups from 17 high schools across the nation worked for three years to develop definitions of the goals of their curricula suggest that educators at the school level find varied ways to define the skills and competencies students should master during their high-school years.

That the school representatives came up with a variety of approaches echoes a theme of some of the recent major reports on education reform--particularly those of John I. Goodlad's A Study of Schooling, which argues that reform must begin at the level of the individual school.

Although other educators say the process of educational reform should be directed through a coordinated state and national effort, the curriculum-review project was intentionally designed to work from "the bottom up," according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which coordinated the project. Consequently, each school could develop a definition of "general education" that is appropriate to its own environment, states a summary report of the network's activities to be released this month in an ascd newsletter.

"A number of criticisms or uncertainties contribute to the current plethora of studies and their recommendations for reform," the report says. "Careful policymakers will do well to examine their own schools to determine which issues are legitimate concerns before responding to various school-improvement proposals."

According to Gordon L. Cawelti, executive director of the ascd, "The premise was to stimulate thinking about general education, not to come up with a prescription. Each community was asked to analyze its own circumstances and determine its own needs."

Different Definitions

The summary report indicates that the participating groups--which were selected to represent a cross-section of schools with diverse student bodies, curricula, and graduation requirements--have defined general education in different ways and have already begun making changes.

For example, in its final report to the network, a curriculum committee from Buena High School in Ventura, Calif., states that "the goal of general education is to prepare our youth to be successful citizens of our society and of the world. The general-education program includes the social sciences, the humanities, applied arts, mathematics and science, language arts, and the principles of health and physical fitness."

The committee reduced the six disciplines into four subcategories that state what knowledge a student should master in each field; what basic skills a student should master; how curriculum offerings relate to the student's life and the world at large; and what attitudes and values a student should acquire from the learning experience. The group itemized more than 100 specific expectations for students in the six discipline areas.

'Skills and Concepts'

By contrast, a general-education model developed by a group from Page (Ariz.) High School outlines "skills and concepts" in seven cross-disciplinary areas, including: basic skills; the manipulation of symbols; man's relationship to man; man's understanding of the past; man's understanding of his environment; physical and mental fitness; and survival skills.

Another curriculum group, representing high schools in Ann Arbor, Mich., took an approach that was both organized by discipline and cross-disciplinary in scope. The group's report specifies "common learnings'' in 10 general areas (citizenship, career development, reading, writing, speaking and listening, reasoning, mathematics, computer competency, library skills, and study skills) and in six "disciplinary" areas (English language and literature, health and physical education, mathematics, science, social studies, and visual and performing arts).

According to the ascd report, most of the schools in the network, like many nationwide, are now moving to reduce the number of electives available to students while increasing the number of courses required for graduation.

They are also working to require more study in mathematics and science (in some cases, raising graduation requirements in these subjects from one to three years); to require seniors to take a full course load; and to develop testing programs consis-tent with curriculum goals.

"Several schools, for the first time, will be requiring courses in the fine arts," the report notes. Other common practices include "defining computer literacy as a basic skill, giving more attention to the impact of technology on our society, and designing new instructional experiences to teach global interdependence."

Mr. Cawelti also noted that the districts are attempting to re-emphasize or introduce student-recognition programs, such as honors diplomas and "weighted" grade-point averages that will more accurately reflect the difficulty of the course of study.

The curriculum network, which first met in 1980, has received support from the Johnson Foundation and the Ford Foundation to defray conference costs. All other costs were met by the participating schools. Each school's curriculum-advisory committee is composed of a school-board member, a teacher, the principal, and a central-office administrator.

The ascd has appointed a group of elementary-school educators to plan a network of elementary schools to begin in 1984-85.

The association is also in the process of forming a new network of high schools that will focus on long-range planning. The project will engage teams of administrators, teachers, and board members from 20 participating schools for two years, with sessions on topics such as strategic planning and forecasting, the use of educational technology, and the implications of changing occupations.

Districts interested in joining the network may obtain further information and application forms from Gordon Cawelti, executive director, ascd, 225 North Washington Street, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Completed applications must reach the ascd by Nov. 1.

Schools that participated in the general-education network included: American High School, Carlsbad, N.M.; Ames (Iowa) Senior High School; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer High School; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Huron High School; Buena High School, Ventura, Calif.; Central High School in St. Louis; Colville (Wash.) High School; East High School in Denver; O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans; Oak Park (Ill.) and River Forest High School; Page (Ariz.) High School; Pinellas Park High School in Largo, Fla.; San Rafael (Calif.) High School; Scarsdale (N.Y.) High School; Ventura (Calif.) High School; Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Okla.; and Woodlawn Senior High School in Baltimore.

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