'This is the way we teach our class'

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Schools have long had something of the predictability of a tourist's package deal: Nine months of classes, guaranteed seat assignments, scheduled free time. Tests thrown in free of charge.

But variables have traditionally added a soupcon of intrigue. Will I have the funny teacher this year, or the wry intellectual? The no-load homework guy, or the "tests are opportunities" commando?

Variation is not always welcome. A child may study dinosaurs year after year because of a poorly coordinated curriculum. But what happens when, to avoid such problems, schools list heavily toward uniformity - the tour package with no options?

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Education reform has riveted attention on raising curriculum standards and judging results by testing. Accountability is popular, and according to "Quality Counts 2001," a new report by Education Week, many teachers say curriculum is more demanding, expectations are higher, and students read and write more.

They are less sanguine about use of ironclad ways to measure success. Testing is prompting a greater devotion of time and resources - often in the form of standardized materials - to test prep. Many schools are also tapping into packaged curricula that carefully script the teaching of subjects like reading. Teachers are instructed in everything from literature selection to hand gestures and the snapping of fingers.

Such programs, which have slipped quietly into many schools, can help ensure a certain level of quality. But they also run the danger of making teachers feel like members of the Jackson Five - not to mention removing those dollops of creativity that can characterize education at its best. E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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