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Curriculum - General Background Information

In education, curriculum refers to the set of studies or courses for a particular period. This definition includes the complete range of activities and instructional materials. An educational institution designs these to foster education. The curriculum outlines what students should learn and how to learn it. Many people disagree on what the curriculum should be. For this reason, there are many debates in education law over curricula.

Curriculum standards help ensure all students have access to quality education. These standards are set at the state level and vary by grade level, subject areas, and state to state. The goal is to provide a consistent and comprehensive framework. This framework guides what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

Specific standards vary by state, but a significant portion have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS has standards for English language arts and mathematics. They are developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts. These standards provide a clear and consistent framework for schools across America.

This article briefly overviews curriculum standards requirements in the United States.

What Does Curriculum Address?

From a legal perspective, curriculum issues focus on two areas:

  • The range of courses or instructional programs available to students
  • All activities, materials, procedures, and instructional aides used in the instructional program

The curricula for K-12 schools integrate across grade levels. In other words, most school districts outline broad educational goals. These goals direct a student's experience from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Most school administrators recognize that each student is unique. They recognize students have different talents, weaknesses, and goals in life. Thus, many schools create flexible curricula. They give students options that do not fit a standard mold.

For example, they may include more challenging tracks for advanced students. They might also provide remedial tracks for struggling students. Schools may offer courses with an emphasis on math and science to develop these interests.

Who Has Authority Over Curriculum Standards?

Nearly every level of government has some role in deciding public schools' curricula. The President of the United States sets nationwide educational goals. These goals are for local educators to ensure that students from the U.S. can compete for work globally.

The U.S. Department of Education conducts research on educational policy. They also manage federal funding for schools that need extra money. These schools must also meet certain standards set by Congress and the President.

The role of state governments in designing curricula varies from state to state. In general, states set broad curriculum goals. State governments often help fund individual schools. These schools teach the curriculum set by the state government.

Local boards of education and school district administrators have the largest role. Boards of education are typically comprised of elected parents. They also contain members of the community, teachers, and administrators. All these people work together to create a curriculum. 

This curriculum reflects the values of the community. They often set specific yearly goals that students must achieve. They also select textbooks. Additionally, they approve funding for lab equipment and other instructional aides.

Finally, teachers must create specific lesson plans. These plans are designed to meet the goals set by the school board. In some schools, teachers may select textbooks for their students. They also design classroom activities and provide the school's administrators with feedback on the curriculum's effectiveness.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on School Funding and Competency Testing.

Role of the Department of Education and State Board of Education

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is crucial in setting higher education initiatives. Meanwhile, the state board of education oversees the education system in each state. These entities work together to establish the curriculum standards for public schools. This also includes special education programs and charter schools.

Local school districts also have a say in how to put these standards in place. This local influence allows the curriculum to adapt. This way, the curriculum can be tailored to each district's unique needs. For example, some districts may emphasize physical education and health education. This might be based on the needs and interests of their student population.

Education Standards: English Language Arts and Social Sciences

English language arts and social studies are two critical subject areas. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts provides a standard. It sets out what students should know in English. It lays out curricula standards from pre-kindergarten through high school graduation.

Social sciences include history and geography. It also includes civics and other social studies disciplines. There are also national standards for social sciences. For example, the National Council for Social Studies provides a certain framework. It sets guidelines for teaching and learning in this area.

High School Graduation Requirements

High school graduation requirements help with a variety of objectives. They are designed to prepare students for both higher education and career readiness. These requirements often include a mix of core academic courses. For example, they may include English, math, and science. They also include social studies and electives, like fine arts or technical education.

A combination of course credits often measures graduation requirements. It also includes competencies achieved and standardized test scores. Furthermore, students with disabilities may have different academic standards. These standards better accommodate their learning needs.

Benchmarks and Student Achievement

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is often called the Nation's Report Card. NAEP is an important benchmark in the education system. The National Center for Education Statistics administers it. The NAEP assesses student achievement across the country in various subject areas.

Student learning is also evaluated at the local level. School districts issue report cards at the end of the school year. They help to assess individual student progress in meeting the content standards.

Professional Development and Resources

Professional development is often provided for educators. This training helps ensure the successful implementation of the curriculum standards. It supports teachers in understanding and implementing the new standards and instructional materials.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a major federal law that governs U.S. education. It also helps by providing funding and guidelines for states and districts to use.

School Curriculum: Looking Ahead

It is crucial to review the curriculum standards on a constant basis. It is also necessary to refine curriculum standards. These changes should reflect the changing needs of students and society. This ensures that our education programs remain relevant and effective. These changes also foster student achievement and readiness for post-secondary education and careers.

Even with changes, the goal of these learning standards remains the same. The goal is to provide a high-quality education for every student. If you feel your school district is neglecting this ideal you might want to contact an education law attorney.

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