|CORRECTING THE CURRICULUM
What should be done to improve our students' education?
March 24, 1998
in this forum:
Why are students going downhill as they enter high school? What are the pros and cons of a national curriculum? What can or what should we do to make education more relevant to our students? How important are math and science scores? Wouldn't reducing class size and teacher workloads improve the situation? Is it a question of not holding students to high enough standards or a lack of parental involvement? Are there better teaching techniques, such as Montessori? Dennis R. Powell of Los Alamos, NM asks: Are there not better instructional models that are student-centered and create a more coherent motivational environment in which students can learn? The Montessori approach, little seen in the U.S. seems to be such a model. Is it a better model, in the sense that student performance differences can be quantitatively measured? If it is a better model, then why is it not more widely employed in the public schools?
Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center of Education and Economy, responds:My wife and I sent our children to Montessori schools for just the reasons you suggest and have recommended to others that they do so too. And there are other carefully thought through approaches that may work better for particular children who may prosper more in a school with less structure, for example, or more emphasis on literature in its reading program. Our organization, and a growing number of others across the nation, are producing comprehensive designs for schools based on carefully researched practices.
As a variety of organizations do this, and the data on their effectiveness becomes more widely available, parents will be able to pick a school for their child on the basis of evidence that its program actually works, rather than how close the school is to home, or word of mouth.
Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, responds:
The decision about how to teach belongs at the local level. However, we agree that science learning must begin early in a child's life. For many years, NSTA has recommended that "science be a basic in the daily curriculum of every elementary school child at every grade level."
We work hard to capture and nurture a student's interest in science at this age because young children are natural scientists, curious to explore their world. When we do not teach science well in the early grades, we risk turning students off to science completely.
Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, responds:
Interestingly, Montessori is very popular in charter schools. In Arizona, for instance it is probably the single most prevalent alternative curriculum in the state's 200 charters. The lesson from that, however, is not so much that Montessori should be more widely implemented in the school system, but that the features of charter schools - flexibility, autonomy, choice, accountability - should be adopted by the system overall. The promise and the success of charter schools lies not in the ascendance of any one curriculum, but in the power of the local community- especially parents and teachers - to design and run the schools they believe are best for their children, and be held accountable for academic results rather than compliance with onerous and irrelevant regulations. School choice and charter schools also have a profound effect on the school system in a less direct way - through the pressure of competition. In Minnesota, the first charter school state, there is a now-famous story about a district in which for years parents had been lobbying the district, unsuccessfully, to open a Montessori school. With the passage of the charter law, they decided to pursue such a school on their own - and lo and behold, the district suddenly saw its way clear to open up a Montessori school making the charter unnecessary, but finally delivering what the parents had been asking for all along. But whether Montessori is good for your child is not the point. Schools should be flexible enough to provide such student-centered models, and parents should have the option of enrolling children in such publicly sponsored programs. Until we stop doing business as a nation that forces children to go to a school based on where they live and not what they need, child-entered instructional methods will be popular and available, but not to the majority of children, who are now relegated to cookie-cutter public schools. (With little accountability I might add.)