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Improving curriculum: Practices and problems that exist in local school settings

Marcia Feole Harrop, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The major purpose of this study was to determine the problems that public school systems encounter when attempting to involve principals and teachers in the process of curriculum improvement. A second purpose was to identify the procedures that school systems use to improve curriculum and the extent of principal and teacher involvement in the curriculum decision making process. The study was conducted through two strands of inquiry. The first strand involved the distribution of a Curriculum Improvement Survey to all communities in the state of Rhode Island. Of the thirty-five Directors of Curriculum, twenty-six completed and returned the survey. Their responses provided a broad spectrum from which to view how, individually and collectively, curriculum improvement was being implemented in response to national and state initiatives. The second strand was an ethnographic study of several different committees within a local school community that were involved in various aspects of curriculum improvement. Findings suggest curriculum improvement is a shared responsibility among a cross section of individuals within school systems. The primary initiators and major determinants that influence the curriculum improvement process were identified. Most school systems reported having long range plans for improvement that are guided by administrative regulations and are implemented within varying cyclical time frames. Smaller districts where administrators and teachers wear “different hats” than in larger systems appear to be less formal in their approaches to curriculum change and the improvement process is on-going without regulations. In regard to participation in the process, the survey responses and the plans suggest that principals and teachers are given ample opportunities to participate in decision making to improve curriculum, however, their degree of participation varies with the type of decision they are being asked to make. The major problems in implementing curriculum improvement that were identified by the twenty-six school systems included insufficient time educators’ lack of curriculum theory and practical experiences; insufficient funds; and contractual considerations. The in-depth study of one school system also documented these problems, as well as: the lack of a common language for deliberating and writing curriculum; personal attitudes and professional ability levels that hinder role fulfillment; inequitable treatment of task force committees by administrators; and pressures to serve as a “rubber stamp” for principals and administrators to ensure the fulfillment of their political agendas. Recommendations for future research are suggested to determine ways to strengthen communication between the state and local school levels; to identify how institutions of higher learning may better prepare educators for curriculum leadership; and to examine the role of Director of Curriculum in order to identify leadership characteristics that are essential to curriculum improvement on a system wide basis.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|School administration

Recommended Citation

Harrop, Marcia Feole, "Improving curriculum: Practices and problems that exist in local school settings" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920607.