Education is often seen as the great equalizer of our society, the means by which individuals can climb up the socioeconomic ladder and have a similar chance of success. But this promise is not always fulfilled—all too often, some children and young adults do not have access to the same resources and opportunities as their colleagues.
This inequality can manifest itself in myriad ways, from reduced access to technology to lower-quality teaching and fewer resources devoted to educational activities. One of the most glaring manifestations of this inequity is the curriculum—some children and young adults are taught outdated, irrelevant, or even inappropriate material. This begs the question: can schools choose their curriculum?
What Curriculum is Available for Schools?
The answer to this question depends, of course, on the school. Generally speaking, however, the vast majority of schools are bound to state-mandated curriculum standards.
These standards are created to ensure that children are educationally prepared for the future by acquiring certain fundamental skills, knowledge, and values. State-mandated content typically includes Science, Math, English/Language Arts, and Social Studies, but may also include other subjects like Physical Education, Music, Art, and Career and Technical Education. In some cases, schools may have freedom to supplement the mandated material with their own curriculum choices.
Such supplementary curriculum can be divided into two categories: academic and non-academic. Academic supplements may include electives that increase in difficulty based on the number of students enrolled in the class, as well as advanced courses in specific disciplines, such as AP or IB classes. Non-academic supplements may include music and arts classes, clubs, extracurricular activities, and extra coaching or training sessions.
Budget Implications for Schools
Regardless of what curriculum a school chooses to implement, schools must consider budget implications when making final decisions about their instructional materials. Educational materials and supplies can often be costly, which makes it difficult for cash-strapped schools to purchase the material necessary for a well-rounded education. Schools may choose to focus their budget on certain subjects while leaving other subjects to the bare minimum.
Additionally, schools may choose to supplement their curriculum with alternative instructional methods, such as online courses and video-based learning. In order to make the right budget decision, school administrators must consider both the cost of the material and the potential impact of what they are buying.
Is this specific material worth the price tag? Will it provide students with a quality education? And are the educational outcomes associated with the material worth the money being spent?
Answering these questions can help school administrators make informed decisions when it comes to their curriculum budget.
Policy Obligations for Schools
In addition to making budgetary decisions, schools are often obligated to follow certain policies when selecting their curriculum. The policies typically outline what materials and instructional methods are permitted, as well as how long students should be spending on each activity.
For example, some states have specific requirements for what students should be taught in science, math, and English, as well as the amount of time that should be devoted to each subject. Additionally, some schools may be required to follow laws, regulations, and/or code of ethics when creating their curriculum. Furthermore, when selecting curriculum, schools should be mindful of their federal, state, and/or local requirements when it comes to standardized testing.
Test scores are often used to measure a school’s success and serve as a barometer of educational effectiveness, so it is important that schools select materials and instructional methods that will help students do well on these tests. Additionally, schools should consider any special education needs and the cultural diversity of their student populations when selecting their curriculum.
Can Schools Make Autonomous Decisions?
Though state-mandated content provides a valuable framework for curriculum development, it does not necessarily mean that schools are doomed to follow only this material. Rather, schools are free to make autonomous decisions about their instruction, provided that those decisions are in line with federal, state, and/or local regulations. Specifically, schools can make autonomous decisions about their supplemental curriculum.
For example, school administrators may choose to implement after-school programs that allow students to explore different areas of interest or focus on certain subjects such as coding or robotics. Additionally, teachers and administrators can create customized learning environments tailored to their school’s specific needs.
When making autonomous decisions, schools must ensure that the material is appropriate for the student body, relevant and up-to-date, and engaging. Additionally, the material should challenge students to think critically and develop their knowledge, skills, and values.
In conclusion, schools have the ability to choose their curriculum, though special considerations must be made when making final decisions on matters such as budget and policy obligations. Schools can supplement their state-mandated material with their own autonomous decisions, providing students with richer educational experiences. Furthermore, schools should strive to make their curriculum not just comprehensive, but also engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the student body.
Ultimately, it is up to school administrators to make informed decisions that give their students the best chance of having a quality education.