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Spring 2004
Diversity, Economics and Education
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WHAT PROGRAMS LIKE OPEN COURT seem to do best is raise test scores. But many educators question whether or not it really means much in terms of education. Testing and accountability, says John Rogers, associate director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education & Access, "need to be implemented in a way that leaves breathing space for creativity" to achieve positive outcomes.

That breathing space is hard to come by. If a school has consistently good test results, it's given more freedom to teach how it wants. But directed curriculum such as Open Court narrowly targets the specific knowledge students need to pass the tests.

"It's a hard cycle to break out of," says Furumoto. "And it's also a problem because the ability to adapt the curriculum to the needs of students is necessary to encourage thinking and learning in poor-performing schools."

Naoya Imanishi '98, M.Ed. '01 teaches third grade at Loreto Street Elementary School in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. Like most well-trained younger and still-enthusiastic teachers, he struggles to take a creative approach to his lessons. "The curriculum," he says, "especially with younger kids, can make good use of a diverse classroom." In January, for example, he used the Western New Year and the Asian Lunar New Year as an entry to teach about different cultures, incorporating into the lessons elements of math (the children learned about measurement while cooking a variety of unusual foods) and language development (they wrote stories about their experiences in the classroom).

But with prescribed time periods for getting through set lesson plans, teachers like Imanishi only have so much leeway. Expanding the curriculum in a way that opens classrooms to the outside world by bringing families and communities into the act is one way that almost everyone agrees will make good use of the increasing diversity in the schools without requiring more money.

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