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Column One: Research

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Contrary to widespread beliefs, elementary-school curricula are remarkably similar throughout the world, a study by an international team of researchers has found.

Previous researchers have contended that political forces in each nation tend to shape school curricula.

But the new study, which examined subjects taught in more than 60 countries from 1920 to 1986, found that countries tend to devote similar amounts of time in primary schools to certain core subjects--language, mathematics, science, and social science--and that the curricula have become more similar over time.

"We may speak with some confidence about a relatively standard world curriculum," write John W. Meyer, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, and colleagues from the United States, Israel, Japan, and Korea in the February issue of the American Sociology Review.

The authors suggest that such standardization may reflect the expansion of nation-states, which may produce similar implications for educational content in different countries, and the worldwide interest in mass education.


New data from a massive survey of 8th graders offer additional evidence of the harmful effects of grade retention.

Examining data on 16,412 students from the federally sponsored National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, Samuel J. Meisels, a research scientist at the University of Michigan center for human growth and development, found that those who had been made to repeat at least one grade in elementary school showed lower academic achievement and self-esteem than other students with similar backgrounds.

The chances that a student held back would earn lower grades and test scores, have learning problems, or be assigned to special-education classes, were 3 times higher than those of a student who had never been retained, Mr. Meisels found.


Reading newspapers appears to enhance middle-school students' writing and reading abilities, a study by a New York University researcher has found.

Working with 427 4th through 6th graders from a Manhattan school, Lenore Ringler, a professor of applied psychology at the university's school of education, included study of New York Newsday, a tabloid, into daily language-arts lessons.

The pupils demonstrated better writing abilities than a similar group of students who had not studied the newspaper, the study found, and 6th graders showed dramatic gains in reading skills.--rr

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