Should you ask about curriculum?
Some parents are highly concerned with the curriculum a school uses, while others are not as interested in these details as long as their child is learning what he or she is supposed to learn. Both of these perspectives are fine and most schools do not look upon one viewpoint as being superior to another, especially in the admissions process. If you are not concerned with the details, do not feel you must ask about the details of the curriculum. However, if you are concerned about the curriculum, please reflect on my thoughts below.
Often parents and visitors at school open houses or tours ask about curriculum in a general sense. “What math curriculum do you use?”, or “What kind of curriculum does this school follow?” are questions often heard. However, this seemingly simple question can have a multitude of answers depending on the inquirers’ understanding of the word “curriculum” and the schools’ understanding of the question.
Let me explain…
Curriculum is a term often overused and not well defined. Inside education, curriculum refers to the programs or overall teaching methods used to teach the required grade level objectives. Depending on which state you live in, your child is required to either learn the common core objectives for each grade, or the state objectives (it is up to the state to decide if they want to follow their own or common core objectives– not really the political question that it has become, but that is a topic for another day). So the chosen curriculum, at times is a program purchased by the school or district, or a program is developed by the school themselves. This program is the plan (what they will cover and when they will cover it) to facilitate student growth to attaining those objectives.
With all that being said, if you ask a school what their math curriculum is, and they reply with Envision Math, Everyday Math, or Math in Focus, etc., unless you are highly familiar with different brands of curriculum (or program), those answers would not mean much to you.
As a parent and educator, when I am exploring a school, I am more concerned with the teaching method or overall style of the curriculum or instruction, rather than brand of curriculum. Possible questions to consider asking schools:
- What is the style/method per subjects (will vary between subjects, even at lower grades)?
- Do they follow a project-based or assessment-based model? (as students’ progress in a project based model, they demonstrate their knowledge through projects rather than tests)
- How long have you been using this curriculum?
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Is their philosophy and/or method something I agree with or can get on board with?
- Will I be able to help my child at home if he/she is learning in this method?
- What curriculum am I most comfortable with?
Many schools will not use just one philosophy or style and will supplement the curriculum with valuable pieces from other methods. Either way, understanding these methods and how the school views each subject can be of vital importance to not only selecting the best school for your child, but also encouraging your child’s success.
I’ve included a short list of some of the most common math and reading programs here.