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Why would one hypothesize a change is needed? First, international comparisons show the decline in education. Tests show American high school students rank much lower than other nations on standardized math and science tests (United States 66). On a test given in twenty-one nations, American pupils only outperformed Cyprus and South African students. These results seem more devastating when one sees Asian nations, usually ranking high in competitions, did not participate (McNamara 73). Examinations also reveal pupils' performances decline as students climb up the educational ladder toward college. "We seem to be the only country in the world whose children fall farther behind the longer they stay in school" ("Nation" 1). Yet, just comparing our students to international standards does not divulge the whole story.
A big gap exists between stereotypical "poor" schools and "rich" schools. Millions of Americans do not enjoy the option of enrolling children in schools where better teachers and materials are affordable. They are forced to remain with whatever the district can provide. Usually these children are not of lower intelligence, they just do not have the opportunities to learn educational necessities. Most parents want to place posterity in institutions where they will obtain a better education, but lack the means to do so. If the government could implement programs emphasizing curriculum, these children would have a better chance of becoming leaders of the country. From here, one must consider courses.
Current statistics and trends in American curriculum need examination. Since 1983, over twenty million American seniors graduated unable to do fundamental math. Also, over ten million did not learn to read at essential levels (1). Students graduate without rudimentary information about history, literature, art, and the philosophical foundations of their nation and civilization (Bennet 2).
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One must examine the current curricula requisites to determine what must change. The National Commission on Excellence in Education recommends in the four core subject areas: four units in English, and three in each science, social studies, and mathematics. Does the average high school meet these standards? Only twenty percent of the nation's schools achieved or exceeded these standards in 1994 (United States 67). Of those twenty percent, the courses offered to comply with these standards are generally very poor. Students earn required science credits in courses such as Applied General Sciences and Basic Physical Science. These courses tend to present material in such a manner students leave high school unprepared and unchallenged. How can students excel in college when they did not need to exert themselves in high school? Several different views exist on changing the current system.
One program mandates the increase in time dedicated to the studies of history, literature, and foreign languages (Cheney 28). The main reasons for studying history are actually quite obvious. The reformers assert history gives individuals a common cultural background and helps prevent past mistakes. Literature demonstrates its importance by reflecting the human condition. Mimetic, or representing reality in a timeless manner allowing people to understand themselves, describes true literature. Along with history and literature, foreign languages also play an active role in education. They not only help communication with others, but also help one better learn a native tongue through comparative grammar. Even though these ideas indicate necessity, the American schools must still find ways to implement them and fortify current courses offered.
Starting at the local levels of education, curriculum reform must transpire. Districts need to create plans to exceed the standards set by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. Upon setting these goals, changing the way many high school courses are taught is essential. When considering each college preparatory course, reformers must question if the course really prepares the students adequately for the challenges of college. Not only should textbooks require more substantial content to improve courses, but also teachers need to gain more knowledge about the subjects taught (28).
Obviously, curriculum reform is only one part of the major overhaul needed in American education. If citizens do not start reforming today, disastrous consequences will result. America's future will remain undereducated and unable to keep pace with the rest of the world. High schools must become more challenging and strive to exceed standards set. The world is a technological sponge. If American students do not progress with the rest of the world, the nation risks losing very vital acquirements. America will forfeit its high rank in the technological race and sacrifice respect from some very dangerous nations. This all relates to the instruction of children now. Education of students remains a top priority in the prevention of future chaos. "If we continue to sustain this chasm between the educational haves and have-nots, our nation will face cultural, moral, and civic peril" ("Nation" 1).
"A Nation Still at Risk." The Center for Education Reform. 30 Apr. 1998. http://edreform.com/pubs/manifest.htm (10 Mar. 1999)
Bennet, William John. To Reclaim a Legacy. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Humanities, 1984.
Cheney, Lynne V. American Memory: A Report on the Humanities in the Nation's Public Schools. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Humanities, 1987.
McNamara, Joseph S. "Confronting the Morality of Mediocrity." USA Today Nov. 1998: 72-74.
Nunley, Charlene R. and Katheryn W. Gerberling. "High School/College Partnerships That Get Students Going." The Education Digest. Mar. 1999: 61-64.
United States. Dept. of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. The Condition of Education 1998. Washington: GPO, 1998.