Curriculum Project To Integrate Academic, Job Standards

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A partnership of 24 state education agencies and three education groups has unveiled a system to help high schools and colleges create curricula that reflect academic, occupational, and general-employability standards.

The Center for Occupational Research and Development, or cord, based in Waco, Texas, is the lead developer of the system. The other partners, in addition to the states, are the Southern Regional Education Board and the Vocational-Technical Education Consortium of States.

Staff members of the center spent nine months last year putting more than 11,000 standards by leading industrial, governmental, and academic groups into a computer database and classifying and searching them for common elements, said Ruth Loring, a CORD senior associate. With advice from industry experts, they wrote about 150 "integrated curriculum standards" that blend several similar standards in a few clear sentences.

Those simple nuggets are golden to teachers, said Peg Slusarski, an English and speech teacher from Lakeview High School in Columbus, Neb., which is testing the system.

Ms. Slusarski, who participated late last month in a news conference here describing the project, said the number of standards that have been proposed by various groups is too overwhelming for busy teachers to make sense of on their own.

Some integrated standards, covering topics such as job-keeping skills and work ethics, are designed to prepare students for any workplace. Others address the requirements of three occupational "clusters": business, marketing, and management; engineering and science; and manufacturing and production.

'A Big Support System'

Walt Edling, CORD's vice president, said teachers could use the integrated standards--available in printed and computer formats--as a curriculum planning tool to sift out topics and activities that are irrelevant to the workplace or to add new ones.

For example, the integrated standards for the manufacturing and production-related occupations cover academic topics such as basic physics and optics as well as technical topics such as industrial power systems and electromechanical operations.

CORD officials emphasized that the system is adaptable to individual teachers' instructional goals and permits the addition of state and local standards. It also includes a collection of project-based learning activities in the different occupational areas and "rubrics" to allow students and teachers to assess student performance.

Compatible Projects

One use of the system is to show parents and students that course requirements are grounded in the expectations of business and industry, Ms. Slusarski said.

The integrated standards have specific references to the 11,000 source standards; all the standards will be provided to schools in a database on a computer disk, CORD officials said.

"I feel like I have a big support system behind me," Ms. Slusarski said.

The system also will help high schools and colleges integrate course offerings with one another, Mr. Edling said. The pilot-test sites--currently in 14 states--consist of a paired high school and local college.

Other integrated standards will be written to incorporate standards in three more occupational clusters and to account for standards-setting activities by other organizations.

Joan Wills, the director of the Center for Workforce Development at the Institute for Educational Leadership here, praised the system as a valuable tool. "I've tried to go through [the various national standards], and I get bored, and no teacher has the time and probably the inclination to do so," she said.

More important, the development of the system shows that states and institutions are working together, she said.

Other efforts to relate national standards to classroom activities are also under way, notably the "Building Linkages" project of the National Skill Standards Board; the National School-to-Work Office, which is jointly funded by the departments of Education and Labor; and the Department of Education's office of adult and vocational education.

But that project, which involves industries and governments in 12 states, is still at the stage of "coalition building and structuring themselves and making sure all the major stakeholders are involved," said Tracy Bradshaw, the skills board's director of clearinghouse and school-to-work initiatives.

Ms. Bradshaw and CORD officials agreed that both projects were compatible.

The system will be refined this summer and made available to other schools in the participating states by fall.

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