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Projects To Explore Integrating Standards for the Early Grades

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The directors of the projects charged with setting national curriculum standards have agreed to explore how--and whether--some of those emerging standards should be integrated for students in the primary grades.

"We feel it is realistic to keep in communication among ourselves so that we do not ignore the fact that the primary school curriculum tends to be highly integrated,'' said Charlotte Crabtree, the director of the history-standards project.

"You want rich, strong content for young children,'' she said, "but you also want to do it in a way that teachers can put this stuff together.''

The effort to set national standards for what students should know and be able to do in school, an outgrowth of the national education goals set in 1989, has been criticized for failing to recognize the ways in which curricular content areas can overlap or complement one another.

Because students naturally learn in integrative ways, some critics contend, setting separate subject-matter standards creates artificial boundaries among subjects and inhibits interdisciplinary learning.

More than a response to that criticism, however, the directors of the standards projects said their new effort is a recognition of the way subjects are taught in the early grades.
Typically, they said, K-3 teachers are responsible for all subject areas, and they interweave that content in teaching broad themes.

"I think the fear is that, by putting so much on a teacher's desk, discipline by discipline, it could be very intimidating,'' said Susan Munroe, who is helping to direct the geography-standards project.

New Meeting Set

The decision to identify possible commonalities among disciplines came out of a March 17 meeting of the standards-project directors held in Washington.

Attending the meeting were the directors of federally supported standards projects in eight areas: the arts, civics, English, foreign language, geography, history, mathematics, and science. Representatives from the National Council for the Social Studies and the National Council on Economic Education, which are working on their own to set standards in their disciplines, also attended the meeting.

Directors from standards projects in five of those areas--English, the arts, history, civics, and geography--will meet April 12 in Los Angeles to discuss the matter further. Representatives from the social-studies and economics groups may also attend that meeting, the project directors said.

"It's really an exploratory meeting to see what we might be able to do,'' said Margaret Branson, the associate director of the Center for Civic Education, which is overseeing the standards project in that area.

Directors of the math, science, and geography projects also expressed interest in exploring the possibility of coordinating their efforts to avoid duplication and to find ways to complement one another. No date has been set, however, for those groups to meet on the subject.

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