New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards
At the threshold to the twenty-first century, New Jersey finds itself struggling along with the rest of the nation to educate citizens who will be competitive in the international marketplace of the future. New Jersey also faces a particular constitutional challenge of implementing a state system of "Thorough and Efficient" public schools.
New Jersey wrestles with a paradox regarding the governance of public education. Ours is a state with a 120-year-old constitutional guarantee that regardless of residency, its children will receive a "Thorough and Efficient" education. Throughout this same time period, the State has evolved into approximately 600 independent school districts that exercise considerable "local control." Confronting the State, therefore, is the issue of how to ensure that all children receive a "T&E;" education. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that each district determines its own curriculum.
Core curriculum content standards are an attempt to define the meaning of "Thorough" in the context of the 1875 State constitutional guarantee that students would be educated within a Thorough and Efficient system of free public schools. They describe what all students should know and be able to do upon completion of a thirteen-year public education.
These standards are not meant to serve as a statewide curriculum guide. They define the results expected but do not limit district strategies for how to ensure that their students achieve these expectations. To assist local educators, the standards will be further elaborated through curriculum frameworks. While also not a curriculum, these frameworks will bring to life the intent of the standards through classroom examples and a discussion of the underlying rationales. Local curriculum developers can use the frameworks as a resource to develop district curricula that best meet the needs of the students in each community. Curriculum frameworks also serve as a resource to classroom teachers and to staff developers who want to modify instruction in light of the new standards.
Since our schools need to produce both excellent thinkers and excellent doers, the core curriculum content standards describe what students should know and be able to do in specific academic areas and across disciplines. Content standards are concerned with the knowledge students should acquire and the skills they should develop in the course of their K-12 experience. That is why each of the content standards is further described in terms of cumulative progress indicators at specific benchmark grades of 4, 8, and 12. Over the next few years, the content standards will be further defined through the attachment of performance tasks and levels which will be determined as the standards are integrated into the state assessment program.
These standards will directly influence the new grade four test and the current state assessment program at grade 8 (Early Warning Test) and at grade 11 (High School Proficiency Test). In future years, the core curriculum standards will define the State's high school graduation requirements. In their broadest application, these standards will establish the foundation upon which students can build as they pursue further learning and careers.
The standards emerged from the efforts of two different groups that worked one after another for a total of fifteen months in 1992-93 and 1995. In 1992-93, panels of educators, business people and other citizens developed preliminary draft standards in seven academic areas and career education. During 1995, similarly constituted working groups built upon these preliminary standards and engaged the public in a review process that resulted in several revised drafts.
The 1995 working groups submitted a total of 85 standards comprised of 1195 indicators to the Department of Education. The department reviewed the standards proposed for eight content areas and extracted the following five cross-content workplace readiness standards which apply to all areas of instruction:
- All students will develop career planning and workplace readiness skills.
- All students will use technology, information, and other tools.
- All students will use critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
- All students will demonstrate self-management skills.
- All students will apply safety principles.
Through these five cross-content workplace readiness standards, the knowledge and skills associated with career education have been elevated in importance for all instructional areas. As a pilot state for the federal "School-to-Work" initiative, New Jersey emphasizes the importance of every student linking school-based learning with a career major and of having both school-based and work-based learning experiences. Since one of the goals of public education is to prepare students for the world of work, it is important that these standards be addressed through all content areas.
The department also emphasized the essential results expected for students by distilling the working groups' recommendations into 56 standards covering the following seven academic content areas:
- Visual and Performing Arts
- Comprehensive Health and Physical Education
- Language Arts/Literacy
- Social Studies
- World Languages
The humanities, which explore the human condition, have been integrated throughout the discrete academic content areas. They have not been treated as a separate content area because they are by definition interdisciplinary. Likewise, several other specific curriculum areas have not been designated as separate components of the core curriculum. These include family and consumer science, technology education, business education and other occupational areas. However, these content areas can contribute to students' achieving the expected results set forth in the standards, especially the cross-content workplace readiness standards. In addition, these programs provide students with opportunities to apply, and thereby reinforce, learning from the core curriculum content areas.
While the standards areas include concepts that can be measured in a uniform manner, they do not include the affective domain, which addresses areas of self-esteem, emotions, feelings, and personal values. Certainly, students' intellectual growth is affected by their emotional disposition. However, the Department of Education excluded desirable affective results from the content standards which the State would formally assess, because it would be inappropriate for the State to make judgments about student values or feelings.The department's position is that parents and local educators should make judgments about when and how these affective issues will be addressed in their communities. Teachers, administrators, parents, and other community residents all have a responsibility to nurture and communicate the values, self-worth, and character development required for young people to succeed.
Although the standards have been organized into seven separate academic areas and five cross-content workplace readiness standards, this is not meant to imply that each standard can be met only through courses in a formal school setting. The application of knowledge from all content areas can be reinforced through experiences beyond the school walls, such as volunteer activities, job shadowing, and part-time jobs.
Other parts of the educational system and the larger community can be used to deliver an integrated curriculum. For example, career education should be incorporated into all seven content areas as well as into occupational education programs. Language arts and literacy skills are key to success in all areas of learning. Science is an important part of health education and represents an important part of the historical record. Mathematics skills are tools for problem-solving in science and can be reinforced in vocational-technical areas. Technology education teachers can show the application of problem-solving techniques which bring physics principles to life. Family and consumer sciences (home economics) draws on health and science in preparing students for family living. The visual and performing arts provide an avenue for the understanding of science, social studies, language arts, world languages, and design technology.
In one sense, these core curriculum content standards mark with precision the results expected of all students. In another sense, they serve as a banner behind which all segments of the education community and the state at large can mobilize to reshape our approach to education. Collectively, they embody a vision of the skills and understandings all of New Jersey's children need to step forward into the twenty-first century and to be successful in their careers and daily lives.
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