Vol. 3, Issue 6, March 1, 2005
Nevada Adopts "Streamlined" History Curriculum
Nevada has taken an innovative approach to reforming its educational curriculum, in a bid to improve the perennially poor performance of its school system. Beginning in Fall 2005, students will begin studying what Nevada is calling a "streamlined" curriculum which represents one of the most radical changes in subject matter design in decades.
"The fact is, resources are limited, and we can only do so much with our students," said Keith Rheault, Nevada superintendent of public instruction. "I am confident that the new program will have a positive impact on our standardized test scores, while making many subjects more accessible to the learning-impaired at the same time."
The concept behind the streamlined curriculum is that students can only take in a finite amount of information. Since the federal No Child Left Behind act has required that states meet tougher math and reading scores, most states have attempted to improve the quality of their math and English classes.
"What we've done is simply give our existing math and English courses more room to breathe, so to speak, by streamlining the content in other subjects," said Rheault. "Once we took a look, it turns out there was a lot of room for improvement."
The Nevada approach reduces the amount of factual content in classes through a process of "concept conflation," in which several similar bits of information are combined into a single, more general example. For instance, in history, World War I and World War II are combined into one conflict.
"Basically, all the same people were fighting, so it didn't make sense to go through the whole story of defeating Germany twice," said Rheault. "1914, 1941... what's the difference, really? One transposed digit and a little judicious summarizing, and we knocked five weeks off the curriculum."
The same process has been applied to all subjects not covered by the NCLB requirements: in science, the "wasteful" three laws of thermodynamics are combined into one; all foreign language classes are now combined into one single "Non-English" class; and art and music have been combined with physical education. But the process has by far been most effective with the history curriculum, in which all significant historical personages with the same name are combined.
"It really helps that so much history involves repetition," added Rheault. "I mean, look at England: six King Georges, eight King Henrys? That's rather excessive. One apiece is just plenty."
The changes will reduce the typical school day by two hours, with the extra time being allocated to standardized test preparation in reading and math. While the approach has attracted some criticism, other states are closely watching Nevada to see how well it works.
"Heck, I wouldn't mind shaving a few decades out of our history curriculum," admitted Joseph Morton, Alabama state superintendent of education. "History can be so inconvenient."