Curriculum

Nations Performing at Top Committed to Broad Curriculum

By Sean Cavanagh — June 09, 2009 3 min read

Though top-performing countries tend to win acclaim for their math and science performance, the key to that success may lie in their commitment to a broad curriculum, with healthy doses of the liberal arts and sciences, a new report contends.

Common Core, a Washington organization that advocates giving students a strong grounding across disciplines, makes that argument after examining the curricula of several high-achieving countries.

Too many American schools are, in contrast, sacrificing the arts and humanities because of pressure to improve reading and mathematics scores, according to the report, released last week.

“Why We’re Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don’t” examines tests, content, and curricula in nine jurisdictions that topped the United States on the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, in science: Australia, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, and Switzerland.

“What is the common ingredient across these varied nations?” writes Lynne Munson, Common Core’s president and executive director, in an introduction to the report. Rather than a “delivery mechanism or an accountability system,” she said, those countries share “a dedication to educating their children deeply in a wide range of subjects.”

The authors’ task in examining the standards and assessments of the nations was difficult, Ms. Munson said, partly because information on academic content in the countries was not always available. They collected standards and tests from various sources, including embassies and ministries of education.

At an event here to release the report last week, Ms. Munson acknowledged that it does not show that promoting a broad curriculum, as opposed to some unrelated factor, had a direct connection to high performance. But those countries’ ability to perform well in subjects like math, science, and reading, while also maintaining a comprehensive, content-rich curriculum, should prove instructive to U.S. officials, she and the other authors argued.

Picasso by Grade School

The report presents test content and curricula, and bores in on the subject-specific requirements in different countries. For instance, it highlights the required music curriculum for 8th grade students in the Canadian province of Ontario, which includes the ability to read music and produce basic compositions.

Fourth graders in Hong Kong visit an artist’s studio, study Picasso’s famed painting “Guernica,” and analyze modernist sculptor Henry Moore’s work, the authors say. Finnish 5th and 6th graders study how the invention of writing changed human life, as well as the influence of the French Revolution, the report says.

The authors argue that the No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on math and reading has “dumbed down” the curriculum, and say the movement toward “21st-century skills” promotes teaching “skills such as media savvy and entrepreneurship disconnected from content of any significance.” (“Backers of ‘21st-Century Skills’ Take Flak,” March 4, 2009.)

But Ken Kay, the president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, said that criticism is misguided. The goals of that movement—which include cultivating students’ applied skills, communication ability, and financial literacy—are not in competition with efforts to build content knowledge across many subjects, he said.

“You have to know the content, and what to do with it,” Mr. Kay said.

Mr. Kay also noted that some of the foreign lessons cited in the report—such as visiting an artist’s studio or studying Picasso—reflect “a merging of skills and content.” Education leaders in high-achieving countries are intent on not only building students’ content expertise, he said, but also teaching students how to apply that knowledge and solve problems.

“The idea that these countries are only focusing on content, and not content and skills, is a misreading of what’s going on,” Mr. Kay said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2009 edition of Education Week as Nations Performing at Top Committed to Broad Curriculum

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Whitepaper
Educator Survey Results: Meeting the Demands of Hybrid Learning with eBooks
With COVID-19 altering nearly all aspects of daily life, including the way students learn, this survey sought insight from those on the f...
Content provided by OverDrive
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Opinion Eight Ways to Teach With Primary Sources
Four educators share ways they use primary sources with students, including a strategy called "Zoom."
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum The Dr. Seuss Controversy: What Educators Need to Know
The business that manages Dr. Seuss' work and legacy will cease publishing six books due to racist stereotypes and offensive content.
5 min read
A copy of the book "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair on March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of several of the author's children's titles because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Steven Senne/AP