Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

National School Curriculum Standards

In the realm of K-12 education, a big topic is the national curriculum standards. These standards help guide what students learn in public schools across the United States. They ensure that students get a high-quality education, no matter where they are.

Traditionally, local governments determine what to teach to students in their district. Many people still favor this approach. They believe it allows local communities the flexibility to teach necessary skills. These skills might be tailored to their particular area.

However, there is a growing trend to standardize primary and secondary education. The issue of standards for learning and teaching has developed in the United States. Policymakers, legislators, educators, parents, and community leaders have all shown an increasing concern with student achievement levels. 

The word "standards" has been used in many ways during public discussions. Sometimes the term has been used to represent established levels of achievement. In other cases, it refers to commonly shared sets of academic subject content. This can include those embodied in state curriculum guidelines.

This article examines some of the issues involved with the standardization of school curricula.

The Current State of National Curricula

The Department of Education oversees the nation's education programs. While many think education standards are the same in every state, that's not always true. There are currently no national standards for curriculum. All states, including California and New York, have their own state standards.

Content standards guide what students should know in certain courses. These courses include English language arts, social studies, and foreign language. The standards might guide what students should know by each grade level. 

Materials for teaching, like textbooks and other instructional resources, might be used. These learning materials are based on the content standards. This helps ensure that students are prepared for their lives after high school graduation. This is regardless of whether the student chooses to pursue higher education or begin a career.

As of now, there is no national curriculum that all school districts are required to teach. However, independent organizations have created model curricula. Textbook authors and school districts can choose to incorporate this curriculum. 

For example, the National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) creates materials. These voluntary standards can be used or left out. These standards are there for topics including mathematics, science, language arts, fine arts, social sciences, technology, and physical education.

Many high schools offer "advanced placement" or AP courses. These courses are a way for grade school students to learn college-level material. These students can usually receive college credit upon passing the AP exam. 

AP courses function as a standardized curriculum for particular high school courses. This is because all AP students have to take the same AP exam at the end of the course to earn college credit. AP course teachers receive a recommended syllabus but are not required to teach every item included. They may choose to do so if they believe it will help students learn the material and earn a higher score on the test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is a big test. It is nationally administered and has become known as the Nation's Report Card. It measures how well students are meeting education standards. Public schools take part in this test, which helps the federal government and state education agencies see if the academic standards are working.

The Nation Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) administers NAEP to schools throughout America. These schools are selected so that the students taking the test are representative of the nation's student body. The tests measure students' mastery of certain subjects. Beginning in 2014, the test also measures Technology and Engineering Literacy. This is measured at the end of grades four, eight, and 12.

NCES does not make participating schools teach any sort of curriculum. However, a state's NAEP score offers insight to local policymakers. It may give them information about the effectiveness of their educational system.

Many factors go into a school's effectiveness. One of these factors is a school's curriculum. For example, a rural school may choose to reduce its fine arts curriculum in favor of a vocational course in agriculture. While agriculture is a relevant subject to that school district, it is not tested on the NAEP. 

That school will be penalized for its failure to teach fine arts effectively. This is true even though the school is otherwise equal to its urban counterparts. Offering standardized tests therefore encourages schools to teach the subjects tested.

In the past, laws like No Child Left Behind made sure that all students were meeting the standards. This included students with disabilities and those learning English. This law intersected with student civil rights. It helped ensure that every student had the same chance to succeed.

State and Local Influence

There are no national standards for education, but local school boards and the state board of education set standards for their jurisdictions. Each state's department of education creates a curriculum framework. This framework gives teachers and schools a clearer picture of what to teach. For teachers, professional development is available to help them teach these students better. Additionally, each state decides its own graduation requirements.

Private schools are a little different. They don't have to follow state or national standards. However, they often aim for accreditation, which means they meet certain quality levels. So while they might have their own way of doing things, they still aim for high-quality education.

In the end, school curriculum standards are partly a result of local decisions, such as those governing the selection of textbooks and those affecting a school's policy on the promotion or retention of students. For more information, see FindLaw's sections on School Funding and Competency Testing.

Getting Legal Help With Education

Education policy and standards can sometimes cause disagreements. Maybe you're a parent and feel your child's rights, especially in special education, aren't being met. Perhaps you're a teacher and need guidance on what's required by federal law.

When issues arise, it's good to know the laws surrounding them. The federal government has laws regarding student learning. Knowing your rights can help ensure every learner gets a fair chance. A lawyer can help. They can guide you through the complex world of education standards, from statewide policies to the local school board.

If you're facing an education issue, consider speaking to an education lawyer in your area.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options