Curriculum Trends in the Next 10 Years
For more than 20 years, curriculum and its accompanying emphasis on standards and accountability for learning have dominated the debate over improving education. Today, the controversy over how to provide equity in achieving the curriculum, how to achieve compatibility between equity and high standards, and what comprises a meaningful curriculum are increasingly commonplace and serve to focus attention on the performance and progress of all students in America (Pugach & Warger, 2001). The most common strategy that educators have used in the past to get students to learn and do the right things is to modify the curriculum. Unfortunately, this approach to curriculum development has been largely unsuccessful. While there is no crystal ball that will allow educators to look into the future to determine the direction of curriculum trends over the next decade, a critical analysis of the relevant literature will provide some significant insights into these directions. To this end, this paper provides an analysis of curriculum trends in America’s public and private schools over the next decade, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Background and Overview. In spite of initiatives such as the Eight-Year Study and student-centered learning, public schools in American have remained deeply entrenched in traditional teaching; nevertheless, because the need is so great, renewed efforts to reconceptualize teaching in order to improve learning continue to emerge (Gross, 1997). What subjects should be taught in our schools, by what means, to whom, under what circumstances, and with what objective in mind? According to Reid (1999), these are the fundamental questions of curriculum that continue to be debated by politicians, administrators, educators, and, not least, the public at large; however, just what is curriculum? “It is a multitude of encounters between teachers (practitioners) and students (clients) in circumstances of great individuality, where outcomes are seldom predictable” (Reid, 1999, p. 3). In addition, a curriculum is also, by necessity, an institution. This is possible because both educators and the public alike have a firm conception of curriculum as institution, which includes concepts of “gradedness” (what it means to be a fifth grader), concepts of “subjectness” (what it means to study fifth-grade geography), and so forth (Reid, 1993).
What curricular changes will we see in the next 10 years and why? According to Larry Cuban (1993), “It is humbling to realize how little each generation learns from the experience of its equally earnest forebears out just how crude a tool curriculum change is for transforming student knowledge and behavior” (1993, p. 183). However, change it must if the curricula in private and public schools in America are to remain relevant in the coming years. Some of the more glaring changes that can reasonably be expected to take place in curricular development over next decade include:
A transition to more distance-learning programs, even for high school and perhaps even elementary school students as well.
More technology-based curricular components with an increased emphasis on real-world applications to keep them relevant.
An increased focus on world geography, international affairs and global trade at all grade levels.
What will be the content of the curriculum in the next 10 years? Based on current trends, during the first decade of the 21st century, educational reformers will endeavor to exert more influence in the next 10 years. Curriculum development initiatives during this period must take into account current projections that indicate that secondary school students will change career paths on an average of seven times during their working years, and these educators are urging school districts to prepare students for critical thinking, problem solving, cooperative learning, and joint decision making (Gross, 1997). Similarly, there has also been a new emphasis on business skill development in the nation’s curricula; this will not replace our traditional focus on knowledge, but rather adopts one that recognizes that particularly in terms of measuring subsequent career success, core skills such as leadership, communication, and teamwork are critically important. Another emerging direction in curriculum development is teaching students about managing diversity (Ryan, 1999).
Notwithstanding the importance of these components in future curricular development initiatives, educators would be seriously remiss if they overlooked the opportunities provided by innovations in technology. According to Odvard Egil Dyrli (2001), these technological innovations can be reasonably expected to have the following effects on curriculum content over the next 10 years:
The emergence of wireless solutions, accessing Web resources through devices including laptops, hand-held computers and PDAs. “The future is wireless technology in the classroom, the home and the community. Students will learn in new ways, and all will be delivered via the Internet,” says Kathy Hurley, vice president of sales and marketing for NetSchools (Dyrli, 2001).
The delivery of comprehensive educational packages that extend beyond the instructional materials themselves: “At Riverdeep, we will be expanding our online offering to include an assessment and classroom management system, as well as more professional development options,” says Gall Elizabeth Pierson, company president and COO (Dyrli, 2001).
The increased delivery of individualized online learning options. “Personalization and customization are key to the future of online learning for educators and students. Our Web-based training will cause this to happen,” Judith Hamilton, president and CEO of Classroom Connect (Dyrli, 2001).
The continued transition of instructional materials from other formats to the Web. “At PLATO Learning, all you need is a browser and you can have access to 3,500 hours of content, anytime and anywhere. Gone are the days of complicated installs and keeping track of numerous CD-ROMs,” says Frank Preese, PLATO’s chief technology officer (Dyrli, 2001).
The use of Web resources to enhance other learning products. “We’re using the Web for resources such as curriculum standards and lesson plans, so customers get the most out of our database products,” says Chris Mangione, curriculum sales director at EBSCO (Dyrli, 2001).
The emergence of premium service research services such as Questia and ProSearch (pers. obs.).
Linking stand-alone devices to Web-based content. Examples include the LeapFrog SchoolHouse Turbo Twist products in spelling and math, where Web connectors can be employed to download content and upload student progress data. “Our focus is on Web-enabled products that allow us to personalize instruction and assessment,” reports Kathryn Allen, LeapFrog’s vice president of marketing (Dyrli, 2001).
Clearly, then, not only what will be included (and excluded) from future curricula will be technology-driven, and while this is not entirely new ground, there are some fundamental differences involved in how technology is being used in academia today. In his essay, “When Mega-Trends Converge,” Mickey Revenaugh asks: “Does all this technology have any impact on our kids’ test scores? Could it … And if so, how? And if not … should this be how we’re building for the future?” (2001, p. 29). The infusion of infrastructure, hardware and software into American schools over the last 10 years has been unprecedented. “It’s hard to find a school these days that doesn’t have Internet access, or one that doesn’t make computer time available to kids on a fairly regular basis. Many school leaders are pressing fast forward into wireless networks, broadband, laptops, handhelds, Web-based software: all the cutting-edge stuff” (Revenaugh, 2001, p. 30). In fact, parents also want to see plenty of technology in their child’s curriculum since they recognize the need for this component in the real world. Likewise, educators as well continue to report the positive motivational effect of integrating computers into their curriculum. “Together with decent test scores, abundant technology is a sign of a school that works” (Revenaugh, 2001, p. 30). The changes to the American school system have raised some serious questions about when, where and how such technologies should be used, particularly in view of the fact that the majority of American homes now have more personal computers than televisions? Reveanaugh says the following questions should guide future curriculum initiatives:
How should we be using technology to prepare for and administer standardized tests? Does it make sense to send kids back into a No. 2 pencil/bubble sheet universe for this big rite of passage?
How can we use technology to assess our students in other ways, so that those percentile scores might not carry all the weight? (2000, p. 31).
What and who will influence content? Social, political and commercial influences will continue shape the nation’s curriculum, but I believe there will likely be a shift to allowing individual preferences to help shape a student’s own personal curriculum. According to Etta Hollins (1996), the school’s curriculum “legitimates knowledge, perspectives, values, and interactions and relationships among people and institutions. The planned curriculum is overt and intentional in what is legitimated. History, English, and science content are examples of the planned curriculum” (p. 1). The implicit curriculum is indirect in that what is legitimated is culturally, socially, and institution ally embedded and may be incorporated into school practices without planning or thought. For instance, competitiveness and individualism are values regarded as worthwhile in the larger society that permeate school practices; such curriculum components do not require a significant amount of thought or planning, but they can adversely affect minority students or other marginalized groups. The null curriculum, then, is primarily comprised of knowledge that is valued by marginalized groups that may be routinely omitted from the curriculum as an institutionalized practice. “The null curriculum helps to maintain and perpetuate the existing societal structure” (Hollins, 1996, p. 2). Nevertheless, studies have consistently shown that some curricular variables can be actively modified to successfully reduce problem behavior and increase desirable behavior in the classroom and one curriculum variable that has been examined in a number of studies to date is student preference (Childs, Clark, Delaney, Dunlap & Kern, 2001). To this end, a functional assessment can be used to help identify student preferences for specific types of academic activities or tasks. “When these preferred activities or features of activities are incorporated into a student’s curriculum, reductions in problem behavior and improvements in desirable behavior have been observed” (Childs et al., 2001, p. 240).
Another of the more interesting trends to emerge during the last years of the 20th century that can be reasonably expected to expand over the next decade is that schools are increasingly administering assessment tools as students enter the curriculum, with the goal of providing students a “snapshot” of their academic strengths and weaknesses. “The results/feedback are then used to help students develop individualized learning plans, which include selection of courses, internships, and extra-/co-curricular activities that will help them develop skills they need” (Ryan, 1999, p. 92). Students who want to learn will appreciate feedback concerning how they are doing in their schoolwork, even if they are doing poorly, because it will help them get on the right track to success — and technology is helping with this aspect of fine-tuning curricula: “Those times are changing, and fast. Many of the products on the market, or already in the schools, include the ability to process data from students’ results. Think of the power of realizing that a group of sixth-graders are scoring poorly on a particular English question and tracing the inadequacy back to an off-target, second grade curriculum that didn’t teach long vowel sounds” (D’Orio, 2001, p. 7). The power of the timeliness of this type of assessment to help motivate students is undeniable. “It is inevitable that after the rush of districts upgrading their technology, the leaders in those districts will see the additional benefits available in using that technology to study students’ results” (D’Orio, 2001, p. 8).
Who will be involved in its development and design? The materials that comprise a curriculum play a major role in what is taught, and most do not address the wide range of needs that students typically bring to the general education classroom. “Traditionally, schools have responded by pitching curriculum to the midrange of ability and pulling students with disabilities into special classrooms or special groups where there are specially designed materials that are rarely congruent with the general education curriculum” (Pugach & Warger, 2001, p. 195). Furthermore, under the requirements of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments, educators must reexamine traditional approaches and make them fit within the context of accessing the general education curriculum. As a result, recent trends, particularly following the passage of the 1997 (IDEA) Amendments, showed that constraints to existing curricula were being addressed by adopting a “hit-or-miss approach” that simply modified existing materials, placing teachers in the position of trying to fine-tune a limited curriculum at the same time that they are trying to teach, frequently not making modifications until a student had already began to fail (Pugach & Warger, 2001).
According to Gross (1997), in the future, joint curriculum design holds the potential to expand curriculum planning and implementation. “Teachers who create a climate conducive to collaboration with students discover renewed interest in working more directly and reciprocally with others to increase effective learning. Joint curriculum design embraces these issues and offers powerful solutions through collaboration between students and teachers” (p. 152). In the future, students will have an increased voice, and will be allocated a sufficient amount of resources and responsibility for learning that they want to learn. The excitement of learning that results when this level of curriculum development and design is accomplished will be self-perpetuating. “Integral learning and familiarity with more strategies for learning lead to testing the potential for future applications” (Gross, 1997). Future strategies for joint curriculum development will help transfer accountability for learning squarely back where it has long belonged: with the student — and his or her parents.
Gross agrees with this assessment and points out that, “Education is not done to anyone — as learners, students, and teachers choose goals, methods, and content. They interact with resources and network with others to investigate topics and derive understandings. They devise plans, implement ideas, and assess progress” (emphasis added) (Gross, 1997, p. 154). However, this approach is not without its costs or its drawbacks, but this author at least believes the time and resources invested in developing such an approach will be well worth the trouble because the comprehensiveness and thoroughness behind joint curriculum design facilitates active participation and mutual ownership. “It empowers the student. No longer passively facing a teacher who stands in the front of the room, students actively participate in studying course content and interact with one another to discover ideas, link concepts, pose and solve problems (Gross, 1997, p. 155). With all of this refocusing of accountability on to the students themselves, the impact for teachers in the next 10 years will also be profound.
What part will you play in curriculum development in the next 10 years? The next 10 years will be the most exciting part of my career as the foregoing changes, as well as many unforeseen (and unforeseeable) changes come to pass in education. The recent shifts in learning from traditional lecture-based curricula to those with more challenging components, as well as those that carry with them more accountability for both educators and students alike such as portfolio-based learning applications where there is an extra amount of work involved for everyone, but the rewards tend to justify it. Concerning accountability, the next 10 years represent both opportunities and threats to curriculum development from a personal perspective since I intend to actively engage as many parents into the learning process as possible. However, I also perceive a growing threat from technological innovations as they influence curriculum development in terms of how students will become increasingly isolated from their peers, teachers and others as communications become online instead of in person.
How will these changes impact you personally? People are just people, and virtually no one likes to see changes made in comfortable routines and patterns that make life a little easier. However, in the spirit of “adapt or die,” teachers must not only accede to the inexorable forces shaping curriculum development today, they must lead the way. In this regard, I intend to actively pursue innovative techniques that incorporate the best of what is available to make the learning experience more challenges and rewarded for students. In the process, I expect to be challenged and rewarded as well. Part of this reward will come from seeing the changes that are now beginning to take place in the American school system brought to fruition; part of the challenges associated with these changes will be an increase in accessibility to teachers, if they want it, since telecommunications can provide a wide range of online forums in which threaded discussions can take place.
The research showed that undoubtedly, access to the general education curriculum will continue to represent a major issue for educators over the next 10 years; however, although law has clearly been the driving force for trends in curriculum design, the need for educators to get serious about what is important for students to learn and be able to do is long overdue. Recent technological advances in the computer industry have also had an enormous influence on the school curriculum. Increasing numbers of high schools and elementary schools in the United States have the latest computer hardware and software and today, computer programs shape academic study in many areas including language arts, science, and social studies. Students are also using computers for collecting and organizing their research for a variety of other academic applications, for communicating with other students at different locations, and for general word processing. Future planning for curriculum design must therefore ensure that the school curriculum adequately prepares young people for the information age in which computers will no longer be a luxury, but rather an indispensable tool.
Childs, K., Clarke, S., Delaney, B., Dunlap, G. & Kern, L. (2001). Improving the Classroom
Behavior of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders Using Individualized
Curricular Modifications. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 9(4), 239.
Cuban, L. (1993). The Lure of Curricular Reform and Its Pitiful History. Phi Delta Kappan,
D’Orio, W. (2001). Spinning Data into Knowledge. Curriculum Administrator, 37(5), 7.
Dyrli, O.E. (June 2001). Here Comes the Next Step. Curriculum Administrator, 37(6), 60.
Gross, P.A. (1997). Learner Ownership and Active Participation in Secondary Classrooms.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hollins, E.R. (Ed.). Transforming curriculum for a culturally diverse society. Mahwah, NJ:
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Pugach, M.C. & Warger, C.L. (2001). Curriculum Matters. Remedial and Special Education,
Reid, W.A. (1999). Curriculum as Institution and Practice: Essays in the Deliberative
Tradition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Revenaugh, M. (2001). When Mega-Trends Converge: What Do Technology and Testing Have
to Do with One Another. Curriculum Administrator, 37(8), 29.
Ryan, C. (1999). Trends in Business Curricula: The View from AACSB. Business
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