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An Outline for a Standard of Education

To design an education standard, one must first decide what the goal of the educational program is. At first glance, this may seem to be a simple task. After all, education is education, right? What more needs to be said?

Quite a bit, in fact.

The distinction perhaps become clearer to us when we look at higher education: The difference between the course of study of a Computer Science major and a Political Science major; the difference between a liberal arts university and a technical college -- these are differences in the goals of the education program.

What is the goal of public education? What are we attempting to accomplish? What knowledge are we attempting to impart?

In my opinion, there are two primary goals for the basic education provided by a society:

First, to impart the base of knowledge necessary to form a foundation of success in the student's future life.

Second, to give the student the tools necessary to participate in and contribute to society.

The two goals are, in fact, inextricably bound to each other. But the distinction, and the particular importance of the second goal, becomes clear when one considers the function of education in democracy.

In order for a democracy to function, its citizens must be capable of making relatively sophisticated judgments on a wide range of policy issues. If the citizenry lacks that essential capability, then elections are reduced to meaningless popularity contests (at best). Without the liberal education necessary to participate in the broad range of public debate, societal ignorance will destroy true democracy, even if the democratic institutions remain behind as empty mockeries.

To speak in more general terms: The goal of basic education is to provide the essential knowledge every member of society should possess.


Principles of the Standard

First, I believe that a standard of education needs to be flexible. As a result, the courses detailed in this standard are designed to take up only three-quarters of the school day, allowing individual schools and teachers the flexibility to define and customize their educational programs to match the individual needs and interests of their community and their students. One obvious addition which many schools would most likely adopt is a physical education class.

Second, the standard is based on eight classes per year. This is intended for an alternating-day block schedule of four classes per day, a method which appears to take advantage of block scheduling's advantages while dealing with common difficulties of knowledge retention. Due to the flexibility built into the standard, however, it can also be adapted to the more typical schedule structure in most school districts.

Third, the standard assumes a model of elementary school (Kindergarten through 5th grade), middle school (6th through 8th grade), and high school (9th through 12th grade).

Finally, this is meant to be merely an outline of what I believe a truly comprehensive educational standard should look like. In a complete educational standard, each course would be defined by a detailed, knowledge-based standard (as discussed here). It should be noted that the principle of flexibility would extend to the standards for each individual course, as well: Only about three-quarters of each course would be mandated by the standard, once again allowing individual schools and teachers to adapt and supplement the course content as they see fit.



The standard looks at education in roughly three stages:

  • Elementary School: The standard considers that elementary school (kindergarten through 5th grade) is the place where the most fundamental tools of learning -- the foundation on which all further education is based -- are established. Students graduating from elementary school should be skilled in reading, writing, and basic mathematics.

  • Middle School: As middle school begins, broad educational overviews are provided for history, science, and social studies. Combined with the foundation provided by the elementary skills, the student is now prepared for the dedicated, focused study which forms the second half of their basic education.

  • High School: In high school, the dedicated, focused study begun in middle school continues.

The standard can be broken down into four categories:

  • Reading & Writing: At the elementary level, the most basic toolset for acquiring and using knowledge.

  • The Core: Consisting of four educational tracks -- Science, Math, History, and Social Studies.

  • Humanities: Education in the arts and literature.

  • Foreign Language: Studies have repeatedly shown that language skills are best learned at younger ages. The standard assumes that foreign language education will begin in kindergarten and continue until the student graduates. This structure also makes it very easy to incorporate ESL programs into the school day (since it allows for foreign students to learn English while native students are learning to speak a foreign language of their choice).

From the beginning of middle school, the schedule for the standard is as follows:

  • 6th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Reading & Writing, Art & Literature, Computer Orientation, Language

  • 7th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Language, Humanities (2 open)

  • 8th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Language, Humanities (2 open)

  • 9th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Language, Humanities (2 open)

  • 10th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Language, Humanities (2 open)

  • 11th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Language, Humanities (2 open)

  • 12th Grade: Science, Math, History, Social Studies, Language, Humanities (2 open)


The Core

Reading and Writing
K thru 3rd Minnesota Basic Skills Test
4th Grammar
5th Composition
6th Research Papers
K thru 5th Minnesota Basic Skills Test
6th Algebra
7th Geometry
8th Algebra II/Precalculus I
9th Trigonometry/Precalculus II
10th Calculus I
11th Calculus II
12th Linear Algebra and Differential Equations
6th Scientific Principles
7th Biology
8th Physics
9th Chemistry
10th Quantum Mechanics and Relativity
11th Astronomy
12th Advanced Theory
5th World History (Overview)
6th Ancient Civilizations (to Fall of Rome)
7th European History I (Fall of Rome to 1500)
8th European History II (1500 to 1880)
9th American History I (Colonial to 1880)
10th American History II (1880 to Today)
11th Eastern History (to 1880)
12th Modern History (1880 to Today)
Social Studies
5th Basic Geography
6th Current Events
7th U.S. Citizenship


Advanced Geography
9th Personal Finances
10th Financial Systems
11th Business Management
12th Economics



6th Introduction to Arts & Literature/Humanities
7th thru 12th (any 3) Greek and Roman
Middle Ages


American Literature
Modern Fiction
Victorian Literature
6th Introduction Arts & Literature/Humanities
7th thru 12th (any 3) History of Art
Theater Arts
Painting/Visual Arts
Film Studies
Media Arts
Computer Graphics
Creative Writing


Graduation Requirements

It is expected for this standard to work in accordance with my belief in yearly assessments which assure that only students capable and ready of advancing to the next level of their education will be promoted to that level (as described here). With that in mind, this standard has been designed around the principle that a 10th grade education should be sufficient to obtain a high school diploma. This allows a student to be held back as many as two full years along any educational track while still being able to graduate, with no additional effort, at eighteen. (If a proper system of support programs were put in place, as described here, students needing to be held back even further could still graduate without any delay.)

This may, at first glance, strike some as anathema. But consider that a GED diploma today requires only an 8th grade education (and, at that, an 8th grade education held to much less rigorous standard). And, indeed, compare the standard of 10th grade education presented here with the standard of 12th grade education available at your local high school.



Minnesota Basic Skills Test: The Minnesota Basic Skills Tests (BST) in Reading, Writing, and Math are given in 8th grade as a high school graduation requirement. If the tests are failed, they must be taken again each year between 9th and 12th until the tests are passed. Minnesota considers these to be an acceptable 6th grade education. You'll notice that I do not.

Computer Orientation: This class gives the student experience with the software other classes will use and expect. An obvious list would include word processing, spreadsheets, databases, sound editing, and paint programs. You can't go too far wrong by teaching the complete Open Office suite and then adding in multimedia programs.

Geography: Note how basic geography is laid down at the same time as the broad overview of World History. It's an essential tool for understanding history. Similarly, geography is revisited at a more sophisticated level just as the student's history courses begin moving into the modern world.

Humanities: These are not truly comprehensive lists, but are indicative of the range and scope that the Humanities can encompass. It should also be noted that many art humanities -- such as music and theater -- are already offered as extracurricular activities. Structuring those extracurricular activities as course credits would introduce further flexibility into student schedules.

Shakespeare: Why is Shakespeare, among all possible authors and artists, singled out as an individual literature class? Largely because Shakespeare's plots, characters, and language have been an edifice of English arts and literature for the better part of four centuries. His influence, both direct and indirect, can be felt in every single medium of expression from his day down to our own. His impact on arts and literature dwarfs entire schools of artistic philosophy.


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