Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 8/Experts Take Sides

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A Discourse in National Curricula
Written by: Hunter Smith
"Fools!" (His clenched fist striking the lectern before him.) "We must prepare today's youth for a world whose terrors are etched upon ancient clay tablets recounting the fever-dreams of the other gods—not fill their heads with such trivia as math and English. Our graduates need to know about those who lie beneath the earth, waiting until the stars align so they can return to their rightful place as our masters and wage war against the Elder Things and the shoggoths!"– Fictitious Arkham school board member, Charles West.

Learning Objectives

- Readers should realize the potential of an alternative for our education system, and associated advantages/disadvantages.

- Readers should develop a base understanding of the concept of state derived curricula in contrast to a federally adopted and enforced one.

- Readers should be able to understand two of the primary options and opinions regarding national academic curricula.

What is a National Curricula?[edit | edit source]

A National Curriculum is a framework used by some country's schools to ensure that teaching and learning is balanced and consistent. It lays out a guideline for the subjects taught, the knowledge, skills and understanding required in each subject, and the standards or attainment targets in each subject. Teachers are to use these to measure a child's progress and plan the next steps in their learning. The government also regulates how your child's progress is assessed and reported.

Pros of such a system in the US:

- Establishes a unified educational system. All states are on the same page. If a student moves to a different school district, it is much less troublesome to catch up.

- It would allow adequate state by state education comparisons, because all standards would be the same.

- Certifications for teaching could be nationwide, due to standards being the same.

- Bring about new forms of assessment for post-secondary education outside of SAT, SOL, ACT, etc.

The Dreaded Cons:

- Unavoidable disagreements about who decides what information is important to teach, and what isn't. (Question: Do you think this would differ from how it is now?)

- This would potentially effect private schools, charter schools and homeschools– by dictating what must be taught.

- Other aspects, especially teacher salaries, would need to become uniform and regulated.

- Allows the federal government more control over school funding instead of the state.

- Different regions would value different cultural aspects of education over others.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The education curricula can vary from country to country as much as it can from institution to institution. There’s differentiation upon what qualifies being worthwhile knowledge, and the definition of conventional subjects becomes entirely subjective. While very few countries are found at the extremes of total uniformity or complete diversity, Italy, France, Japan, much of southern and eastern Europe (before 1990), and many countries outside the industrial world lean tend towards standardization, while the curricula of the United States and Canada have encouraged differences between schools (McLean).

In American, each school has complete control over its curriculum, though not over the textbooks used. There is no official system of external examinations for the entire country. Public debate about standards in American schools in the late 1950s and again in the early 1980s led to curriculum projects funded by federal government, encouragement for higher level “fast-track” courses, and state-level assessment of student competence. More popular universities now demand that their entrants achieve high marks in nationwide, privately run tests such as the SAT. The American school has traditionally served all young people in one neighborhood and aims to develop local community awareness and to offer the acquisition of knowledge and skill in all areas relevant to an adult citizen. The well-founded American pragmatic tradition seems to discourage the more narrowly academic education of other countries, and instead aims to develop local community awareness and offer the acquisition of knowledge and skills in all areas relevant to an adult life (McLean).

In countries that have a national curriculum– a list of subjects is prescribed for each grade of education, each with an allotted number of hours per week or year. In Japan, the curriculum has been as standardized and external as any in the world, with prescribed textbooks as well as national content; though, student assessment is still left to teachers. There has been a movement to encourage more individuality and student choice since 1992 with the introduction of life environment studies in primary schools to encourage creativity and independent learning. Upper education courses must cover all basic areas, including Japanese, history, geography, civics, mathematics, science, art, and foreign languages, as well as offering specialist options (McLean).

It is also worthy to note that countries that tend to have national curricula tend to also place emphasis on entrance exams. For example, Japanese students have to take entrance examination for junior high school, high school and university, if they change (or sometimes advance) to a new institution ("Japan's Education System").

Proponents of a National Curriculum[edit | edit source]


In this article, Matt Miller (2008) acknowledges that nationalizing education has never been a popular idea in this country, but he argues that the time has come:

“Nationalizing our schools even a little goes against every cultural tradition we have, save the one that matters most: our capacity to renew ourselves to meet new challenges. Once upon a time a national role in retirement funding was anathema; then suddenly, after the Depression, we had Social Security. Once, a federal role in health care would have been rejected as socialism; now, federal money accounts for half of what we spend on health care. We started down this road on schooling a long time ago. Time now to finish the journey.”

Set academic standards, whether they are state or national, shape what is taught to students, and more importantly, how teachers teach. In education, there has always been a debate over what to teach our students. Curriculums (whether national or not) should be developed with the mindset of challenging not only students, but the teachers as well.


Here, James Beane (2009) suggests that a unifying curriculum can provide the possibility of bettering education in under-resourced schools; one version is easier to deal with on a national level than fifty state versions.

He thinks that a national curriculum should enable students to experience and practice democracy. It should create an environment where students learn together, apply various knowledge and methodologies to solve problems and give opportunities to critically assess problematic issues. Beane feels that schools have an obligation to promote democratic social integration. In place of a capitalistic, competitive structure, the classroom should be based on democracy, diversity and equality. He acknowledges that such concepts are advocated, but not always practiced in schools nor in society in general.

Adversaries of a National Curriculum[edit | edit source]


The Home School Legal Defense Association is adamant in its belief that educational decisions should be left up to the states and local school boards, not the federal government. Furthermore, for the past several decades, they view America’s education system as having become centralized and more disconnected from parents and local control. "This has weakened academic quality in general, and made the federal government’s grip on the education system tighter. Local control over education is always better than centralized federal control. We are extremely concerned by any calls for nationalized standards, especially since it is unclear what room would be left for educational freedom, or how homeschoolers will be affected." They denounce any attempt by Congress to create nationalized standards, curriculum, or testing, considering it to be unconstitutional, and harmful to students and families. They hold to the notion that Home school families demonstrate that parents, not bureaucrats in Washington, best know their children and what they need to learn.

My take on it all...[edit | edit source]

I don’t see the harm in trying new things with our education system. There’s obviously no way to please everyone, and what’s most important is the best interests of the students. There’s definite room for improvement in public schools in virtually every conceivable area. There’s the inkling that if the federal government gets more involved that things will just get worse, but they’re certainly didn’t get any better in my scholastic lifetime in the state’s hands. I think James Beane has an interesting approach– the concept of doing away with standardization entirely and approaching teaching from a much more interactive and personal experience level. However, I do not think we are ready for that much of a leap of faith. Give it another fifty years or so, when schools become obsolete and we simply have interactive transmitted educational discussions broadcast into our homes via holograms. But I would like to see more room for creativity to flourish in the classroom. With technology integration, curriculums are destined to go through some extreme changes and focus mainly on developing a student’s concrete skills.

Assessment![edit | edit source]

1. Which one of the following countries does not have a national curriculum?

A. Japan

B. France

C. United States

D. Italy

2. Which of the following is not a possible pro of having a national curriculum?

A. Establishing a unified education system

B. New forms of assessment

C. Nationwide certifications for teaching

D. Having every student know who C'thulhu is and how he fights war against the Elder Things

3. Bill argues that different states and different school districts all being on their own programs makes it nearly impossible for those children to keep up in school. He also believes there needs to be a national core base of knowledge that all Americans share so that people in our country can read and communicate intelligently. What is Bill most likely an a proponent of?

A. The Communism Party

B. A national curriculum

C. Free ice cream and zombie costume holiday, every second Saturday of the month for all eternity

D. Keeping schools the way they have traditionally been

4. A list of subjects is prescribed for each grade of education. There are terrible, prescribed textbooks and the teachers assess each student's progress. Which type of curricula is potentially at work here?

A. A Dark Evil, C'thulhu-esque learning practice

B. The all-too convenient national curriculum

C. The traditional standard curriculum

D. B & C (and quite possibly A!)

References[edit | edit source]

Curriculum Integration - Beane on CI. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

Education in Japan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

Education in the United States - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

Fermoyle, D. (2008, March 1). From the Trenches of Public Ed.: Should American education be nationalized?. Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

HSLDA—Is Congress Moving Toward Nationalized Standards?. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

Japan Reference - Society- Japan's Education System. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

McLean, M. (n.d.). Curriculum - MSN Encarta. Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

Miller, M. (n.d.). First, Kill All the School Boards - The Atlantic (January/February 2008). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

Quiz Answers[edit | edit source]

1.C 2.D 3.B 4.D

Hsmit022 (talk) 22:40, 5 June 2009 (UTC)

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