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S.C. Approves First Set of Curriculum Frameworks

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The South Carolina state school board last week approved a set of curriculum frameworks aimed at revitalizing the teaching of mathematics, visual and performing arts, and foreign languages.

In adopting the frameworks, South Carolina joins a growing number of states--among them California, Connecticut, and Maine--that seek to make curriculum the linchpin for a much broader school-reform effort. In all, the state plans to complete frameworks in eight subjects by 1995.

The board's 17-to-3 vote, however, came after a flurry of last-minute lobbying by conservative parents who said they feared the state was seeking to impose values on their children.

Ann Shepard, a member of the board, said those parents were confusing the frameworks with outcomes-based education, a parallel education-reform strategy that is being promoted in other states.

"That raises a lot of flags for some people,'' she said. "I think these frameworks are exactly what they say they are--parameters to address learning by students.''

"They reflect the best practices we know and define what students should be able to do,'' she said.

State education officials unveiled the draft frameworks last year and then launched an intensive campaign to put them into the hands of every citizen. (See Education Week, Oct. 7, 1992.)

Superintendent of Education Barbara S. Nielsen said nearly 50,000 copies of the framework were printed. They were distributed in barber shops, beauty salons, churches, and civic clubs as well as schools.

Of the more than 3,200 written comments received, Ms. Nielsen said, 80 percent were reflected in the final frameworks.

Parents of gifted children, for example, had complained that statements in the frameworks condemning the practice of grouping students by ability levels would lead to classrooms in which their children's intellectualgrowth would be stunted.

A Broader View

"We certainly didn't want to put ceilings on anyone,'' Ms. Nielsen said. "We just tried to make it more clear that we were trying not to shortchange any child.''

Similarly, the mathematics framework was rewritten to specify that basic skills would not be forgotten in the move to teach the "higher mathematics.''

Unlike the state's old "scope and sequence'' guidelines, which narrowly prescribed minimum competencies for students, the new frameworks set down broad themes and goals to guide learning in each subject area and help enhance students' critical-thinking skills.

They also suggest the kinds of reforms needed to help schools reach those goals. They call for changes in the way teachers teach and in the way schools of education prepare them. They also call for a new student-testing system that would assess students based on their performance on tasks rather than their answers to multiple-choice questions.

Starting Early

The new arts, mathematics, and foreign-language frameworks generally propose more and better teaching in those subjects and recommend introducing them earlier than many schools do now.

The foreign-language framework, for example, suggests that such studies should ideally begin in kindergarten but no later than 4th grade. It also stresses teaching communications skills over the traditional emphasis on grammar.

In mathematics, the framework is modeled on the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and proposes introducing data analysis, probability, algebraic notions, geometry, and other topics at earlier grade levels.

The arts framework maintains that such studies should go beyond performing and making art. Children, it says, should also learn to perceive and to make informed, objective decisions about art and to understand the history of art.

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