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Cortines Unveils Draft Curriculum Frameworks for N.Y.C. Students

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Aiming to promote high academic standards for the nearly one million students throughout the New York City school system, Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines has released a draft set of curriculum frameworks that outline what each student should know and be able to do.

The frameworks establish, for the first time in decades, common standards for prekindergartners through 12th graders in the nation's largest school system, the chancellor said.

Under New York City's decentralized governance system, 32 community school boards establish curricula for elementary and middle schools. The central board of education runs the high schools.

Since he became chancellor last fall, Mr. Cortines repeatedly has said he is disturbed by the unevenness of education standards and teaching quality in the city. The frameworks, he said, are intended to address the disparities.

"Children in all parts of the city must have the same opportunity to attain explicit academic standards,'' he said late last month in releasing the draft frameworks. "These ideas may seem basic, but in this school district, we don't have those expectations and standards. Now, because of these curriculum frameworks, we will.''

The chancellor invited the city's 1,100 principals and the community school district superintendents to a meeting to brief them on the frameworks. He said a "field-test edition'' of the frameworks will be available for use in the coming school year, with a final version finished by 1995-96.

If districts decide to use the new frameworks, they will still have great latitude to develop individual curricula and to provide professional development and support to teachers.

But it was unclear whether the frameworks would be embraced widely: Only about 300 principals attended the meeting with the chancellor.

Philip Kaplan, the executive director of the New York City School Boards Association, said local boards would be "more than happy to accept'' the frameworks if they will improve student learning.

"It's not a matter of power or infringing on authority,'' he said. "If [Mr. Cortines] feels what he's offering is beneficial, it will not be an obstacle.''

But most of the city's innovative and successful curricula, he said, have been generated by local districts and not the central board. The chancellor acknowledged that the success of the effort will depend on the willingness of local educators to use the frameworks.

Addressing Students' Needs

A committee established last November by Mr. Cortines drew up the frameworks. They were designed to address the diversity and special needs of students, set challenging standards, provide the basis for professional development, and guide the development of an assessment system.

The frameworks cover: social studies; mathematics; science; English-language arts; languages other than English; health education, physical education, and home economics; performing arts; visual arts; and occupational and technical studies.

The frameworks, for example, call for 3rd graders studying science to "observe, describe, and classify plants; conduct simple experiments on the properties of electricity; investigate the characteristics of vertebrates and invertebrates; and demonstrate the ability to construct graphs, collect and interpret data, and keep records.''

In 6th-grade social studies, among other tasks, students "will use a variety of maps, globes, atlases, and other tools to analyze the impact of geography on the people and nations of the Eastern Hemisphere, ... compare and contrast major Eastern Hemisphere economic systems, and examine the impact of technology on the peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere.''

The frameworks will be reviewed by another commission set up by the chancellor to look at education standards and accountability. They also will be circulated throughout the city for comment.

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