Curriculum Column

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Has standards-setting got you confused? Denis P. Doyle says help will soon be on the way.

The education analyst's Chevy Chase, Md.-based consulting firm is working on a project that will describe to experts and nonexperts alike how to go about setting academic standards. Doyle Associates will produce a short book and a CD-ROM with financial backing from the Walton Family Foundation Inc., the Bentonville, Ark., philanthropy run by members of the founding family of the Wal-Mart discount-store chain.

The CD-ROM will include narration, descriptions, anecdotes, illustrations, and a template to help school officials set standards for their districts.

The idea grew out of Fordham University researcher Bruce S. Cooper's financial-allocation model, which shows how districts spend their money. Mr Doyle wants to provide districts with examples of how they should spend their money.

Many of the examples will come from district-level content-standards projects Mr. Doyle and his firm have helped create in Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, South Carolina, and Virginia. Borrowing from those projects will save educators time and money, he said.

"You could plagiarize to your heart's content," added Mr. Doyle, who anticipates that the finished product will cost about $20 when completed next year.

The program will also enable school officials to weigh the costs of different ways to improve student achievement.

The product also will be available on Goal Line, an on-line computer network set up by the Coalition for Goals 2000, the private, nonprofit organization that received the two-year grant from the Walton foundation.

The National Education Association has drawn up a list of guidelines for teachers to consider before they buy or try a commercial curriculum package.

"There are a lot of people on Madison Avenue dreaming up new ways to get to students," said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the union. "Our teachers need to be alerted to this, as well as parents."

Known as the "Preserve Classroom Integrity" pledge, the short list of guidelines urges educators, for example, to be wary of businesses that offer trips, gifts, or prizes in exchange for the promotion of commercial products in classrooms.

A good commercially developed program, on the other hand, reinforces basic curricula and advances an education goal, according to the list.

The bottom line? "Does it have real educational value," said Ms. Lyons, "or does it promote a company or a product?"

--Karen Diegmueller

Vol. 15, Issue 20

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