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Sept. 14, 2000
Curriculum Changes

Contributor & New Zealander, Sara Lindsey immigrated to the USA in February to marry her American fiance. She has 7 years teaching experience in New Zealand, covering elementary, middle and high schools. She also lived in Japan for five years and was involved, amongst other things, in a lot of English teaching.Currently enrolled in an EdD program and am currently taking a class called Curriculum Theory and Design, her class was asked to interview teachers at one school - at random. Sara, however, hadn't really been here long, and "thought it'd be interesting to see what teachers across America thought." Class discussions have included "good" and "bad" ways to implement curriculm change, and according to Sara, the "survey results seem to reflect the ideas we've been discussing... "

I made use of my list serve memberships [and] put out a plea for help, asking people to respond to a set of five questions regarding curriculum changes.

I received 24 responses from 17 different states, Nova Scotia, Canada and Tasmania, Australia. Many gave more than one response to each question, and it must be noted that the figures do not simply represent actual responses, as they include what people believe to be the responses of those around them. I then attempted to order the information which I received.

My first question targeted changes that people would like to make in curricula. Twenty one percent (21%) indicated that they would like to see curricula streamlined. They didn’t want the same thing taught in different grades, and they wanted the curricula to line up with state standards. Another twenty one percent (21%) wanted to see more interdisciplinary studies, problem solving, logical thinking, experiments, co-operative learning, music, art and gym written into the curricula. Variety was seen as important. Eleven percent (11%) wanted to stop test related curricula and assessment. These were responding to ‘High Stakes Testing’. It seems that teachers feel that teaching shouldn’t be geared towards the test, however if there IS a test, the curricula should be aligned with it.

Other changes that were cited included reducing the amount contained within a curriculum (one person suggested dividing the contents into ‘essential’ and ‘peripheral’), making it teacher friendly, getting student and parent feedback on all curriculum, reorganising who actually writes the curriculum, and making it non-graded.

I next asked if teachers had input into the curriculum design process. The replies were interesting. Thirty five percent (35%) felt that teachers did have input, thirty percent (30%) felt that they didn’t, and thirty five percent (35%) felt that they only had partial or limited input.

Twenty one percent (21%) believed that ‘administration’ had the most input into curriculum change while others said that teachers, the district superintendent, the State and local committees had the most input (sixteen percent (16%) for each). These committees usually seem to include teachers. Thirteen percent (13%) felt that the Board of Education had the most input.

One respondent indicated that while teachers in the district were supposed to have the greatest input, technically it doesn’t happen that way. "I have a friend on the Social Studies committee and they just completely changed several outcomes at each grade level because ONE of the PARENT reps was unhappy. Things like that make me wonder where our curriculum comes from."

When asked how curriculum change affects those around them, thirty two percent (32%) mentioned stress. Stress seemed to be evidenced by grumbling, complaining, negativity, excessive chocolate and coffee consumption (!), panic, yelling, screaming, frustration and uneasiness. Closely related to this was disruption, friction and controversy, mentioned by seven percent (7%) of the respondents.

Twenty percent (20%) reported curriculum change causing extra meetings, extra work and new committees being formed.

Nine percent (9%) said that those around them embraced the change easily.

Other effects of curriculum change were reported as: diverting of money from library, other texts and consumables, people pretending it isn’t happening, people not trusting the administration (who regularly change their minds as to how something ought to be done), the feeling of ‘been there, done that’ or ‘this too shall pass’, people feeling dictated to or devalued, older teachers finding change difficult, and the emergence of groups who will fight the changes (with speeches, letters etc…)

The last question involved reactions to change (as opposed to the effects it has) and there was some overlap.

Twenty nine percent (29%) stated that a common reaction was that people just did what they had always done and made no changes, although several pointed out that lesson plans were changed in order to reflect what was supposed to be taught. Twelve percent (12%) said that people made some changes, while nine percent (9%) said that they had no choice and had to embrace the changes.

Twelve percent (12%) said they felt stressed, powerless and frustrated, while nine percent (9%) said they, or those around them, rebelled, argued and fought as a result of the change. This contrasts with six percent (6%) who said they would work to get the changes they wanted.

Other reactions noted were: subversion (making sure the new curriculum failed), seeking a transfer and accepting the changes willingly.

One point of interest is that while seventy percent (70%) of respondents reported that they felt teachers had input into the curriculum changes, only sixteen percent (16%) indicated that teachers have the greatest input. Forty one percent (41%) suggested that curriculum changes are either ignored or only partially instigated.

Some of the reasons for not instigating curriculum change were given as: too many changes seen in teaching (‘some for the good and others a fad. The pendulum swings wide and sometimes unnecessarily’), disliking the order and pace of curriculum ‘guidelines’ and knowing they wouldn’t fit the students, not having the time or the energy for it, very little collaboration and teachers knowing what is best for their own particular students.

Those who embraced change willingly represented both older and younger teachers. Those who were happiest were those whose districts really involved them in the decision making process as opposed to token or no involvement.

Much more could be written on this topic, but this survey certainly gives us food for thought.


How do you handle curriculum changes? Share your thoughts with us!

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