How does the American Curriculum measure up to countries teaching with a National curriculum? I will briefly explore some positive effects of having a national curriculum while comparing top performing and low performing countries. The ideas offered here are my opinions based on my research. More detailed data can be found in the sources provided at the end of this article.
I am proud to say that I am an American teacher. However, what to teach and how to teach it, is always a concern for principals and legislators. Teachers have less difficulty knowing what to teach. In the distant past, American students outperformed children from around the world. For many years, American students have rated much lower than other advancing nations. The “No Child Left Behind Act” was created to address this problem. This act allowed each state to develop their own curriculum under certain limited federal regulation. However, it merely caused more problems and confusion in the American education system.
During my career as a teacher in Texas, I have taught Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Second and Third Grade. I taught Special Needs children, GT students and English Language learners as well. I worked at five different campuses and noticed such vast differences in the methods of delivering the learning standards. The reason being: the state of Texas developed learning standards, objective and benchmarks for each grade level. The school district, the principal, the school and then the teachers respectively decided which of those standards to teach and how to present them. Some schools were more lenient, while others were extremely stressful for both the teacher and students. The one commonality at each school was this: test taking skills and strategies were at the forefront. Schools in Texas are rated, each year, based on the results of the standardized testing system. Principals and teachers work diligently to prepare children for these tests.
In England there is one national curriculum (developed in 1992). They are now an above average scoring country on the TIMSS. The United States scored in the slightly below average level. The US has begun developing Common Core State Standards, which provides standards for each subject and grade level. Not all of the 50 states have adopted such standards. Virginia, Nebraska, Texas, and Alaska are the four states that have chosen to continue using their state, not national standards. Perhaps government leaders feel that their existing standards are sufficient or superior? Other countries, such as Sweden and Australia are in the process of moving towards adopting a national curriculum. On the TIMSS, their students scored slightly below average. These countries desire student success, similar to Singapore and France. Hopefully, their new national curriculums will lead the way.
Dr. McPherson has researched one key element in national curriculums. These schools teach the same subjects and for the same amount of minutes per year. For example, every Kindergarten student will receive the same amount of time learning English in Singapore. Many high performing countries have a national curriculum which proves to be successful in the results of national assessments. Many countries have such a national curriculum and have had it for many years: France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom. In 2003, the highest performing 4th and 8th grade students came from the following countries: Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Taipei, England, Russian Federation, Hungary (results on the TIMSS-Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). The majority of these top performers are from countries with a National Curriculum!
After reviewing the Kindergarten standards, I noticed that the Texas Math standards were much more rigorous. While teaching Kindergarten in Texas, quite often we teachers grumbled about the complexity of the Math skills that we were required to teach. Perhaps Texas wants to push the children to higher levels? Now, the Common Core Standards of the US assert that “more learning time in Kindergarten should be devoted to number than to other topics.” Numbers, shapes, counting, object sorting, addition and subtraction are the main skills that are targeted in the Common Core US Kindergarten Math standards. The British Curriculum in Kindergarten (Key Stage 1) focuses on numbers, shapes, space, addition and subtraction, as well. Under the British and US common standards, all children in Kindergarten will be learning addition and subtraction. However, countries without common guidelines may not even teach addition in Kindergarten. This poses a problem for a child who moves from one state or province to another-or event from one country to another. Thus, revealing the need for common standards. Similarly, a child who is only being taught letter names in Kindergarten in Scotland (another below average country on the TIMSS) will have difficulty when transferring to a Kindergarten in England where his peers are reading words and sentences. When this same child moves along each grade level, he is at risk for reading below age level. He would be missing that foundation of phonics. I was curious about the major differences between the British and US learning standards. As a result, I researched and then compiled the details of the similarities and differences between the Kindergarten Math and Reading Standards. To see these details, click here:
Comparing US Common Core Standards to British National Standards: MATH
Comparing US Common Core Standards to British National Standards: READING
After reviewing the comparisons, I noticed that both have about 50% of the same standards, but the other 50% varies. Some differences in Math are: The British Curriculum teaches: ordering 1 and 2 digit numbers and also rounding 2-digit numbers to the nearest whole number. The US Curriculum only orders 1 digit numbers and does not introduce rounding of numbers, in Kindergarten. On the other hand, the US Curriculum teaches the concept of greater than and less than, while the British does not. The British teaches how to use odd and even numbers whereas the US does not. One might wonder which country has the best curriculum. With each society having its own standards, laws and school systems-the curriculum they choose may already be meeting the needs of their population. On the other hand, it may not. Studies show that students that scored higher on international tests are ones that are part of more advanced countries.
(2012) ASDC. “Common Core Adoptions by State” http://www.ascd.org/common-core-state-standards/common-core-state-standards-adoption-map.aspx
(2012). Department for UK Education: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/primary/b00199044/mathematics/ks1/ma3
(2012). Common Core State Standards Initiative: http://www.corestandards.org/
(2009) “Choosing Between the British and American Curriculum” Online Magazine: The Essentials Guide: Shanghai, http://www.bisshanghai.com/index.php/debate-american-versus-british-curriculum.html
(2012) “Education in Sweden: Lessons for Life” http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Education/Basic-education/Facts/Education-in-Sweden/
(2012, McPherson, Fiona). “Educational Curricula” MemPowered website http://www.memory-key.com/improving/strategies/ children/international-curricula
Author of this article: Andrea Chouhan from https://greenbeankindergarten.wordpress.com
- Study: Common Core could boost U.S. math performance (eschoolnews.com)