A balanced curriculum incorporates three key components; the learner’s needs, the societal needs, and input from professionals (Cawelti, 2006). The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which aims at improving academic standards in public schools, has been controversial because it focuses only on two test areas, mathematics and reading/language literacy.
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Researchers identify three side effects of this Act. First, testing proficiency in mathematics and language results in an imbalanced curriculum whereby less instruction time is allotted to other subjects (Cawelti, 2006). This affects student performance in other subjects.
The second side effect relates to the teachers’ satisfaction and morale. The high requirements placed on reading and mathematics make teachers focus on improving the standardized test scores, rather than teaching creatively (Cawelti, 2006). Failure to reduce the achievement gaps, based on students’ test scores, often discourages teachers. The NCLB allows each state to set standards of determining students’ proficiency in mathematics and language.
Some states, e.g. Texas, deliberately skew the test scores in order to show that most of their students have high proficiency in language and mathematics (Cawelti, 2006). Higher test scores would mean that the students’ performance in these two subjects meets the national standards. However, this only prevents state system from implementing essential changes in classrooms to improve understanding and mastery of content by the student.
Educational researchers provide various models for improving learning standards in public schools, reducing achievement gaps, and ensuring balanced curriculum.
To promote balance in the learning curriculum, school leaders should encourage parental and community involvement in students’ learning activities. The broad-field model is one of the proposed curriculum improvement models. It comprises of five elements; (1) sciences; (2) social/cultural studies; (3) drama, music and art; (4) languages and mathematics; and (5) problem-solving skills (Cawelti, 2006).
Cawelti (2006) proposes that the broad-field model be expanded to include additional skills in technology, citizenship, recreation and health. A second approach involves the cultural literacy of young students; it advocates for the introduction of important concepts and topics in science, history and the arts in elementary school curriculum (Cawelti, 2006). Academic experts can offer the topics to be included in this curriculum.
A third approach is the crucial issues perspective. The proponents of this model propose that school curriculums should focus on issues that relate to the students’ day-to-day experiences. They propose a curriculum that has five issues. The first issue is the democratization process, which includes skills in operations of government agencies, civic education and voter participation (Cawelti, 2006). Students should also be taught about the various economic systems including communism and capitalism, as well as the effects of globalization.
A third issue recommended under this model is population control, whereby students are taught about reproductive health and lifestyle diseases. This model also recommends that students be taught about world religions and cultures, as well as regional conflicts. Students should also be taught about environmental issues including global warming, environmental pollution and the dangers of nuclear waste and ozone depletion.
To achieve a balanced curriculum, reduce achievement gaps and improve learning, Cawelti (2006) proposes a test-case model. This approach advocates for increased funding to school districts to help implement four main projects: the Baldrige National Quality Program; good organizational practices; parental involvement, cooperative learning and mentoring programs; and learning communities in school settings.
He argues that this approach will equip learners with skills that will enable them to function effectively both as students and as members of the society.
Cawelti, G. (2006). The Side Effects of NCLB. Educational Leadership, 64(3), 64-68.