State Curriculum Guidelines Research Paper Starter

State Curriculum Guidelines

This article presents an overview of the process of State Curriculum Guidelines for public schools in the U.S. The educational system in the United States has been historically based on the concept of local control. The local school boards or committees of the countless educational districts have had the final say over the subjects and content taught in schools. This began to change in the latter half of the 19th century as the states themselves became more heavily involved in the educational process and school oversight. By the 1950's the Federal Government was exerting more influence over the nation's schools. This started with Cold War era legislation that aimed to improve the teaching of math and sciences in the public schools. The movement gained momentum during the 1960's, as education became a civil rights issue while the South was desegregated and landmark laws were passed by the Congress to ensure that all children had access to an equal education regardless of color or economic status. The growth of federal influence culminated in 2001 with the passage of the popularly labeled No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 which cemented federal influence over the state educational systems. As the schools changed, so did the educational system itself. Ideas such as required curriculum, curriculum development, mandatory educational standards, and new methods of teaching all began to find their way into the educational lexicon. More recently, the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) have been adopted by many states, and are expected to influence curriculum development and assessment practices as they are implemented.

Curriculum Organization > State Curriculum Guidelines

Keywords Adequate Yearly Progress; Charter Schools; Common Core State Standards; Constructivism; Curriculum Committees; Curriculum Development; Curriculum Guidelines; Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA); Federal Mandates; History of Curriculum Development; In-Service Training; National Defense Education Act; No Child Left Behind (NCLB); Pedagogy; Privatization; Public Education; State Curriculum


Prior to 1900, the federal government had little say in what the states and local educational authorities chose to teach. This was a guarded prerogative at the state and local level. In fact, some states education boards passed on the responsibility for the selection of subjects to the local school boards in the different areas of the state.

This did not necessarily mean that there wasn't a certain degree of similarity in what was being taught. Before the turn of the 20th century, the United States was a very different country, with most of its population still living in rural areas and small towns. The skill set needed by the population of most of the country was limited, and few students continued on to high school (if there was one even available) after graduating from the elementary level. This lack of requirement for higher order skills translated into a fairly homogenous set of subjects being taught by most public schools of the day irrespective of region. The subjects taught were basic, and the "three R's" (reading, writing, and arithmetic) were the order of the day. Educators believed that a firm grasp of these subjects would allow the student to master the other courses being taught, such as geography, history, and very limited sciences.

As the United States entered the 1900's, changes were made in the curriculum, driven by advances in the fields of psychology and sociology. Some cities began experimenting with changes in teaching methods and courses were developed to be more in line with how students actually learned and related to the subjects being taught. However, these nascent efforts were not widespread and much of the country continued to adhere to the old methods and basic curricula through the 1930s, when the decade-long national disaster known as the Great Depression began to force changes in this outdated system.

Through the early years of the 20th century, the high school curriculum in America was driven by the subject matter requirements of the colleges, not by the educational requirements of the states (Tyler, 1981). Since there were few public high schools in many states and very few (less than 10 percent) of American students either attended or graduated from the high schools of the time, the high school curricula of the day offered only college preparatory subjects and very little in general educational subjects. Until the 1930's, a slate of courses developed by a group of scholars in 1893 dominated high school college preparatory programs.

The seminal change in this system began in the years immediately before the First World War. This was driven by the establishment of public high schools by most states, and the rising level of real world skills required by the nation's population as the country transitioned from a primarily rural agricultural base to an urban society based on technology and industrialization.

As more students attended high school without the intention of enrolling in college, it became apparent that a separate track of vocational education needed to be added to the high school curriculum. This was accomplished in 1917 after a groundswell of public support from all sectors of the economy culminated with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act that provided federal funds for the establishment of state vocational education programs. The responsibility for overseeing these programs fell to new state boards of vocational education which were tasked with defining the statewide curriculum for these programs. This marked a beginning in consolidation of state authority, a trend that continues today.

Impact of Great Depression

The start of the Great Depression also marked the beginning of the end for the old system of education. Not only did more students enter high school (since there was no employment for them), they discovered that the two curriculum tracks available to them, college preparatory and the highly selective vocational programs did not meet the requirements of the new paradigm brought on by the decade long economic slump. Several large scale efforts were subsequently launched to address the new requirements and to develop new, general curricula. At the same time, the new methods of teaching began to become more prevalent as a concerted effort was undertaken by many states to familiarize teachers with the new styles of teaching, and encouraging them to include the methods in their courses.

Not only were these new methods beginning to see widespread use, but studies were also undertaken that demonstrated a need for access to professional resources for the teachers and school districts, as well as efforts to be more responsive to the needs of the individual students. These new efforts, born of necessity, resulted in an entirely revamped and comprehensive curriculum for many schools and began the trend towards the modern methods used today.

The Second World War

The Second World War not only brought the Depression to an end, it also derailed what was being taught and developed in the nation's schools. Like the rest of the country, the public schools turned their focus to meeting the requirements of the national war effort. Emphasis was placed on preparing students for the military and industry, as well as indoctrination into the wartime measures and sacrifices required of every American citizen. Very little was done in the development of any curriculum that did not directly meet these goals.

With the end of the war, schools once again embarked on expanding their educational subject matter. Over the next decade there was much experimentation with radical new ideas and concepts in teaching, sometimes driven by various special interest groups. Some of these were mandated by state or local boards; however, the experimentation did not make a lasting impact on most programs and progress continued to be made in what was by then the generally accepted trends in reform.

Through the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, America's schools were again called upon to support national security objectives. The National Defense Education Act was passed by Congress to fund enhancements in the teaching of math and science in the schools, and large amounts of funding were directed towards the modernization of the curricula, teaching materials, and educational methods in these subjects, as well as in-service education for the teachers themselves.

The Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards (Common Core) are a set of standards for English and mathematics instruction for kindergarten through 12th grade, developed in 2010 by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, in consultation with education researchers, parents, teachers, and school administrators. Adoption of the Common Core is voluntary, and each state makes an independent choice whether or not to adopt the Common Core. As of December 2013, forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Authority have chosen to adopt the Common Core; the only states that have not adopted the Common Core are Alaska, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Texas.

The primary purpose of the Common Core is to establish high goals and expectations for education across the country, so students from all regions will be well prepared to succeed in higher education and in their careers, to collaborate and compete with their peers. In addition, the Common Core is meant to foster collaboration between states in matters such as textbook and assessment development, and developing support services for teachers and schools who are involved in implementing the Common Core. For instance, many states are currently collaborating on developing student assessments based on the Common Core, which will replace current end-of-year assessments; these common assessments are expected to be implemented beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

The Common Core is not a curriculum but a set of standards for what students should learn each year; implementation of the Common Core, including the development of curricula, is left to each school system. For this reason, as well as the fact that the adoption of the Common Core is a new and ongoing process, means that it is not yet possible to evaluate its effects on teaching and learning. However, it is not unreasonable to expect that adoption of the Common Core will foster greater uniformity concerning what is taught and learned at specific grade levels across the country.

The evolution of curriculum development and teaching methods continues, and the cumulative results of what has been done in the past manifests itself in today's system of curriculum development, teaching methods, and student centered learning.


The control over the development of each school district's curricula and...

(The entire section is 4830 words.)