Curriculum Change as a Reform Strategy: Lessons from the United States and Scotland
by Adam Gamoran — 1997
Recent research indicates that the school curriculum exerts an important influence on student learning: A rich and rigorous academic curriculum promotes high levels of student achievement, and curriculum differentiation is associated with achievement inequality. These findings suggest that curriculum change may be a potent policy lever. Two cases of planned curriculum change are examined to illustrate the limits and possibilities of curriculum reform. In the United States, many school districts are upgrading the quality of the mathematics curriculum for low-achieving students. Evidence from four urban districts shows that “transition courses?designed to bridge the gap between elementary and college-preparatory mathematics achieve partial suc -cess: Students in transition courses have better outcomes than those in general math, but are not as successful as those in college-preparatory classes. In Scotland, a national curriculum reform called “Standard Grade?was designed to enhance opportunities for disadvantaged students to study an academic curriculum in secondary school. Evidence from four longitudinal national surveys indicates that the reform raised achievement and reduced social inequality on national examinations at age sixteen, but inequality of enrolling in higher education persisted. These cases suggest that curriculum reform can have important benefits, but must occur in concert with other social changes to have broad and long-lasting effects.
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