Somewhere in Dubai, countless parents must be wondering. Should they choose a British curriculum school, or should they enrol their children at one of the American curriculum schools in Dubai?
Of course, this is not a concern that only Dubai parents have. Parents everywhere have to weigh their options carefully. In particular, they must decide on the curriculum they want for their children.
Read on if you’re considering enrolling your child at an American-curriculum international school.
The American curriculum is based on the educational framework followed in the United States. This is the Common Core State Standards Initiative for English language arts/literacy and mathematics.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative sets clear, grade-specific learning goals. Specifically, the Initiative has grade-by-grade standards until the eighth grade. For grades nine to 12, however, the standards are banded together into the grades nine to 10 band and the grades 11 to 12 band.
The following are the characteristics of the learning standards set for each grade and band:
- They are clearly defined, easy to understand and consistent.
- They are compatible with and match college and career expectations.
- They encourage higher-order thinking.
- They are based on research and evidence but build upon the strengths of the current standards.
- They adapt to the best practices of top-performing countries.
However, note that the United States has a decentralised education system. Thus, while the Initiative has definitive grade-by-grade and group-band learning standards, it does not prescribe how schools should teach their students to attain these standards. Furthermore, it does not tell the schools which materials to use to support their students as they journey towards achieving their grade’s or band’s learning objectives.
In other words, the United States has no central or universally followed curriculum.
The following are the primary strengths of the American curriculum.
1. Has Clear Learning Standards
Following the U.S. Common Core State Standards Initiative means that American-curriculum international schools have precise and rigorous learning standards. Thus, they can offer their students clear guidance on their progress. Parents and students, too, can easily see how well they are progressing through the curriculum.
Parents can therefore rest assured that if their children successfully advance one grade, their children have attained the specific standards set for their previous grade level and are indeed ready for more complex materials and the succeeding grade’s standards.
To illustrate, one can assume that students who have completed the seventh grade and progressed to the eighth grade can read, understand, comprehend, and analyse literature (e.g., stories, dramas and poems). Specifically, they are expected to be able to do the following grade seven-specific learning objectives:
- Cite textual evidence to support their textual analysis and inferences.
- Identify the literature’s theme and analyse its development.
- Provide an objective summary of the work.
- Talk about how the specific components of the story interact (e.g., how the setting influenced the development of the protagonist’s character).
- Point out the contextual definition of words and phrases, including their symbolic meanings and connotations.
- Provide an analysis of the effect of rhyme and alliteration on a specific section of the piece.
- Discuss how the piece’s form or structure enhances the work’s meaning.
- Discuss how the work’s author showcased the contrasting points of view of the text’s characters.
- Identify how techniques unique to a medium affect a piece of work by contrasting the different versions (e.g., audio, film, stage) of a drama or story.
2. Is Open-Ended and Creative
As discussed above, the American Common Core State Standards Initiative is primarily a set of learning standards rather than a fixed curriculum. What does the lack of a universally enforced educational program mean for international schools with an American curriculum?
It means American international schools have creative licence to determine their lessons and choose the materials they will use to support their students’ learning. In other words, the American curriculum does not set limits or boundaries that can constrain the schools (and their teachers) about the way they will teach their students.
American international schools, therefore, are free to use the teaching methods and content that will pique their students’ interests. They can employ enquiry-based and hands-on teaching methods, too. They can also help students learn by utilising individualised instruction.
For these reasons, the American curriculum develops students’ higher-order thinking and creativity.
3. Prepares Learners for College, Career and Global Success
An inspection of the specific learning standards set by the American curriculum will tell you that the standards are anchored on the competencies that students need to thrive in college and, eventually, become successful in their chosen careers.
In the medium-term, the American curriculum is designed to prepare students for the scholastic aptitude test (SAT) and the universities’ advanced placement exams. In other words, the curriculum is designed to give the students the skills they need to place in excellent universities, particularly North American institutions of higher learning.
The top-performing countries’ best practices also inform the curriculum’s standards. This assures parents that following the American curriculum will equip their children with the abilities they require to compete on a global stage.
In the American curriculum, schools are free to decide on the execution of the educational framework and the methods and materials they will use to achieve the curriculum’s programmatic objectives. This is the framework’s greatest strength.
However, it does mean the school has a tremendous impact on how effective the framework is. Some schools are just better at maximising the creatively open-ended American curriculum.
When choosing your school, therefore, you should examine the subjects it offers and see how well they will ensure your child will attain the American curriculum’s learning standards. Look at the school’s track record and academic performance, too. How well are the school’s students performing when it comes to the SAT and universities’ advanced placement tests?
The American curriculum is a college- and career-preparation-oriented curriculum. It provides clear learning standards against which one can readily assess a learner’s progress, but it leaves the method of execution and the choice of materials to schools. American-curriculum schools, therefore, are free to be creative about their educational programs.
However, this creative licence means different American international schools can have significantly variable results. Thus, to maximise the advantages of the American curriculum, choose a school with a proven track record in effectively supporting their students to achieve the framework’s rigorous standards.