S. Carolina 'Congress' Kicks Off Effort To Redraft Curriculum in
COLUMBIA, S.C.-More than 600 South Carolina educators and policymakers met here recently to begin for their state a process that is already under way at the national level-rethinking what the schools should teach across the whole spectrum of grade levels and subject areas.
Billed as the first statewide curriculum congress in the nation, the meeting here was a counterpart to the second national curriculum congress, held in Aspen, Colo., last month, at which some 50 discipline groups shared their views about the precollegiate course of study. (See story, page 14.)
But while they displayed enthusiasm over prospects for a comprehensive look at the curriculum, participants at the conference here also voiced caution over the obstacles they face. Not only are there still profound disagreements over what should be taught, they noted, but there also may not be enough money to carry out major changes at a time when the state has already been forced by budget problems to scale back education spending.
"Our curriculum is way too limited," said Superintendent of Education Barbara S. Nielsen, who called the Aug. 11-12 meeting. "And too few children are being exposed to richer, broader experiences."
The conference was the kickoff to what is expected to be a multi-year effort to redraft the curriculum in seven major subject areas: mathematics, science, language arts, social studies, foreign languages, the visual and performing arts, and physical and health education. In the process, state officials said, teacher training, instructional materials, and assessments will also have to change.
"This is a very long, hard process we are engaged in," said Judith Renyi, director of Collaboratives for Humanities and Arts Teaching, a coalition of 13 precollegiate projects financed by the Rockefeller Foundation.
"The willingness to do this [here] is unprecedented," said Ms. Renyi, whose group was a sponsor of the statewide meeting.
Participants at the meeting here first heard about South Carolina's efforts to create "frameworks" for each subject area. Unlike traditional "scope and sequence" curricula, which closely detail everything a student is expected to learn, the frameworks would establish broad goals for each subject area, and would be designed to enhance higher-order thinking skills.
Participants then broke into smaller groups to discuss the frameworks by subject area. After extensive additional meetings, both at the district and state levels, a group of experts in each field is to draft a more formal statement that would be subject to public hearings and approval by the state beard of education.
Subject areas such as mathematics, where there is already a consensus at the national level about what should be taught, might have their frameworks in place within a year, state officials said. But subjects more likely to incite controversy, such as social studies and language arts, may be several years away from completion, they said.
The differences that could make the process a lengthy one for those areas were evident at the conference. While those attending the workshop on health and physical education were quickly able to begin listing what was most important in their field, participants in the social-studies section debated multiculturalism and whether the field should be split into history and other individual social-science topics.
Conference organizers, which included the state education department, the state higher-education commission, and Lander College, hope cross-disciplinary discussions can begin later this year.
"The hard part of integrating a curriculum is understanding what is important in your area," said Edna Crews, the department's acting internal coordinator. "We felt that the dialogues should start by subject area, and could then move to cross-disciplinary."
Who Will Pay?
Teachers, who made up about one-third of the attendance at the congress, said they felt a review of the curriculum was long overdue.
"We have a tendency to have textbooks and tests drive the curriculum," said Betty J. Cunningham, president of the South Carolina Education Association.
But the way this first meeting was organized, she said, made it difficult for participants to discuss changes in depth. "It seems to me that the numbers are too large for us to come up with something new and challenging," she said.
For many at the congress, a primary concern was how the state was going to pay for any changes, including new in-service training and instructional materials.
Due to budget problems, the legislature this year failed to match teacher pay raises to the southeastern average for the first time since the state's landmark Education Improvement Act was adopted in 1984. And this summer, the state's budget and control board ordered all state agencies, including the education department, to trim their budgets by 1 percent and to put an additional 2 percent into escrow accounts.
Ms. Nielsen maintains that no additional money will be needed to carry out the frameworks. Instead, she said, money will be transferred from "less effective" programs to pay for any new framework-related costs.
That approach, however, has its skeptics.
"The state of South Carolina didn't even have enough money to pay teachers at the southeastern average," said Eileen Maness, a high-school math teacher. "The question is now whether the state legislature is willing to pay for a curriculum overhaul."
Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 32Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as S. Carolina 'Congress' Kicks Off Effort To Redraft Curriculum in