A Solid Core Curriculum for Georgia's Students
According to the BOR website, in a statement affirmed in October and December 2004, the BOR's Council on General Education and Chief Academic Officers affirmed that the USG core curriculum foregrounds a number of important student "needs." In addition to meeting the traditional goals targeted by responsible colleges and universities across the country, the current USG core curriculum—according to this 21st century BOR affirmation—"assists students in their understanding of technology, information literacy, diversity, and global awareness."
We are aware of no system-wide studies since December 2004 indicating that the "current core curriculum does not adequately prepare students for the competencies needed to be successful in the 21st century." ("Strategic Plan Scorecard," a document e-mailed to the USG VPAAs on January 15, 2008.)
If such studies exist, they should be distributed throughout the system so that faculty can responsibly discuss and analyze the current core's strengths and weaknesses before initiating any effort to design and implement a new core.
The February 4-5, 2008 retreat in Athens was not an open discussion of the core curriculum. Here is a partial list of the constraints imposed on the discussion:
The Strong Foundations process restricts faculty input to tinkering at the margins. It appears to violate the SACS Principles of Accreditation. Principle 3.4.10 states that "the institution places primary responsibility for the content, quality, and effectiveness of the curriculum with its faculty."
Higher education is built on the belief that the free and open expression and analysis of many diverse viewpoints is key to gaining understanding. From the beginning the strong foundations process has inhibited free and open debate of certain fundamental questions.
For more on this issue, see this resume of the retreat written by one of the participants.
The Georgia Performance Standards are divided into seven areas:
English/Language Arts, Reading, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Modern Languages and Latin, and CTAE (Career, Technical and Agricultural Education).
The College Preparatory Curriculum is divided into five areas:
English, Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences, and Foreign Language.
The current BOR core is divided into seven areas:
A1 English, A2 Mathematics, B Institutional Options, C Humanities/Fine Arts, D Science, Mathematics, and Technology, E Social Sciences, F Courses Related to the Program of Study.
The parallels between these three sets of requirements are obvious. Both of the proposed conceptual models are radically different from both the Geogia Performance Standards and the College Preparatory Curriculum. Leaders across education are calling for better coordination between primary/secondary education and higher education. See, for example, Failing College: Why We Must Align High School Curriculum with College Expectations, which outlines the views of Dr. David T. Conley, founder and director of the University of Oregon's Center for Educational Policy Research. In his What We Must Do to Create a System That Prepares for College Success, Dr. Conley outlines the case for the alignment of primary, secondary, and college curricula. While curricular alignment in Georgia is not perfect, the current BOR core and the Georgia Department of Education's Georgia Performance Standards are better aligned than the curricula of many states. From this prospective, both of the proposed conceptual models represent a step backwards.
There is no evidence that the themes-areas-threads models will provide students with a deep understanding of globalization. Indeed, it is significant that one of the most successful models of globalized learning, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at the high school level, does not follow a themes-areas-threads model. The IB Curriculum is usually presented as a hexagon with six academic areas surrounding three core requirements.
* The six academic areas are:
First Language, Second Language, Mathematics and Computer Science, Experimental Sciences, Individuals & Societies, and the Arts.
* The three core requirements are:
an extended essay that reports the results of the student's investigation of topic of individual interest,
an interdisciplinary course on theory of knowledge that explores the nature of knowledge across different disciplines and different cultures, and
the CAS (creativity, action, service) that requires students to be involved in artistic pursuits, sports and community service work.
Notice that, when it comes to the academic areas, the IB Program bears many similarities to the current BOR core. It may be that the IB Program, suitably modified for higher education, would provide lessons for revisions of the current BOR core curriculum.
A deep understanding of globalization is part of, not opposed to, knowledge in academic areas. Many USG institutions have profoundly internationalized their curricula while supporting the current BOR core. Indeed, a review of the courses currently in the core at various USG institutions indicates that Georgia colleges and universities have a strong global perspective. A small sample of some titles currently in the core at a sample of USG institutions includes: Perspectives on Comparative Culture, Scientific Perspectives on Global Problems, Peoples of the World, World Literature, Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness, World History, World Religions, World Humanities, World Geography, and Multiculturalism in Modern Society. This list could go on for over a page.
It may well be that the place of globalization needs to be formalized within the core in the way that it presently is not. But that is a decision that should be made by the collective faculty of the USG institutions after careful reflection and examination of diverse models. The proposed theme-areas-threads models are neither a product of faculty discussions, nor a result of careful reflection, nor the outcome of an examination of diverse models.
At the February 4-5 retreat, faculty on the combined committees tasked with creating conceptual models of a new core curriculum were told to ignore Area F of the current core, and to assume that the other 42 hours would be significantly reduced, down to around 24 or 36 hours. It is not plausible to think that the Board of Regents can reduce the size of the core curriculum by 15-40% while simultaneously maintaining/enhancing student competencies. In particular, it is not clear how student competencies regarding American History, American Government, the History and Constitution of Georgia (required by Georgia Law), science, written communication, oral communication, quantitative reasoning, emerging technologies, foreign languages, etc. can be squeezed into a smaller core.
The committee was instructed to assume that the new core should give rise to innovative, cross-disciplinary courses and to ignore the fact that these were by definition almost certainly to be courses that faculty within the USG and elsewhere are unprepared to teach. The committee was told to ignore the fact that a huge proportion of these courses inevitably would be taught by adjuncts and part-timers with limited training and experience in their own disciplines, let alone in other disciplines. The committee was told to assume that there would be plenty of money for retraining current faculty and for hiring new faculty as needed. Success rarely rewards projects based on such unrealistic assumptions.
Standard courses and standard core areas make it easier for students to transfer courses within the USG system and beyond the system. This is one central reason why the core corricula of different states are similar. The two committees, however, were instructed to avoid conceiving of a new core in terms of courses and core areas which are relatively standard within and beyond the USG.
Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics compiled by Clifford Adelman in his ground-breaking work Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor's Degree Attainment indicate that over 60 percent of students attend more than one institution. Adelman also found that transferring does not reduce the rate of bachelor's degree attainment. However, he found that continuity of enrollment was an important variable in bachelor's degree attainment. This indicates that ease of transfer increases the likelihood of degree attainment.
At the February 4-5, 2008 Athens retreat, the committees tasked with creating conceptual models of a new core curriculum were pointedly told that the "areas" of concentration of any proposed new core (to replace current areas A through E), must not outline the discipline categories which characterize the current USG core and the core curricula in most American colleges and universities—natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and fine arts. Instead, the committees were told that the new core must focus on radically innovative areas, must "break out of the box" and reflect completely new structures.
As envisioned by the two "outside the box" conceptual models, students may meet the "area" requirements with very different innovative, interdisciplinary, non- standard courses at very different USG institutions. To the extent that they are genuinely innovative, interdisciplinary, and non-standard, the courses taken at one USG institution are unlikely to prepare students for courses or for area requirements at another USG institution. Common sense compels the conclusion that a variety of innovative, interdisciplinary, non- standard courses at different institutions will handicap Georgia students who, due to changes in jobs, family circumstances, or military orders must transfer between USG institutions or from a USG institution to a college or university in another state. An untried, dramatically innovative, interdisciplinary, non-standard core curriculum framework which might work brilliantly at a small, selective liberal arts college can hardly be expected to successfully serve a rapidly expanding system with 35 diverse institutions.
Those who went through the 1998 core revision process remember its high cost in time and money. These costs are placed, not only on faculty and staff, but on students. They must transition from one core to another in mid-stream. Moreover, the 1998 revision was relatively modest compared to the revision contemplated by either of the two conceptual models. The costs of the transition to either of the proposed conceptual models would be significantly higher than the cost of the transition to the 1998 core.
Many committee members suggested that, if globalization is the goal, the dollars spent to transfer to a new core might better be spent to teach languages to elementary, middle, and high school students before they reach USG institutions.
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