Curriculum decisions are influenced to some degree by nearly every level of government. Despite these influences, most curriculum decisions are made locally.
Curriculum is a politically sensitive issue, and control over teaching content is one of the central elements of public education. Nonetheless, opportunities exist for public officials to make use of contracting to improve and customize curriculum and teaching methods.
2. New Approaches in Curriculum Development
A number of reform-minded school districts have considered revising curriculum and teaching methods at the local level to meet local needs. In these cases, private companies have been responsible for developing and implementing public school curricula. Most often, the curriculum has been comprehensive e in nature, usually developed for an entire school. However, curriculum can also be tailored for a particular type of student, grade level, or study area.
As part of their management services, Education Alternatives, Inc. and Alternative Public Schools, Inc. each provide their own custom-designed comprehensive curriculum and related teacher training. The Edison Project has also announced its intention to make its special curriculum available to public schools. Another curriculum designer is the Houston-based Performing Schools Corporation (PSC), which promotes a highly structured curriculum called Direct Instruction Teaching Arithmetic and Reading, or DISTAR. By its very nature as a provider in a contract arrangement, PSC is accountable for its performance in a way that public schools typically are not. In addition, the company offers a performance guarantee for student achievement and will take a prorated reduction in its contract fee if it fails to meet specified goals. Says John D. Privett, president of Performing Schools, "What you have here is an emerging $100 billion industry ... (companies will be) competing on the basis of performance and cost to the district."
3. Instructional Technology
According to a 1993 report by Market Data Retrieval, 30 percent of all school districts surveyed used Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) in the classroom, an 11 percent increase over 1991 levels. One of the fastest growing segments of the educational technology market, ILS provides comprehensive lessons, typically supported by a personal computer, which are customized to meet individual student learning needs.
In 1993-94, the instructional-technology market for K-12 public schools, including the ILS market, was valued at $580 to $600 million, according to Mark Stevens, marketing director for Jostens Learning. Serving more than half the ILS market, Jostens is the largest provider of this type of education technology. Other major ILS and education-software vendors include Computer Curriculum Corp. (CCC), Eduquest, a division of IBM, and the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC).
Jostens Learning provides computer-based curriculum to 14,000 public schools in subjects ranging from language arts to social studies to mathematics. Using software de-signed to support and monitor individual student progress, Jostens promotes what it calls an "interactive learning environment" in which software programs, hardware-service support, teacher training, puppets, and other classroom supplies are integrated and managed by Jostens.
"Most schools and educators know what kind of outcome they want, but may not know how to get there. We help them get where they want to go. We're a piece of the total instructional package," says Stevens.