Columnist discusses differences in curriculum accross states and districts.

by Callia Peterson, ’22

When I sat down at my desk in Precalc on the first day of school, I sighed with relief at the sight of a clear syllabus before me. Familiarity in a new school is comforting, and practically all students across all districts receive a few syllabi on their first day of school. When I began to skim the detailed outline for Daniel Rohrs’s math class, I thought, “I can do this.” Even when Rohrs began to pass out the Algebra II review, I said to myself, “Great, this will be an easy review.” But when I turned to the last two pages, my stomach sank at the sight of several trigonometry questions that I didn’t recognize. 

I have been always fairly keen in math. Every year, even as courses have become progressively more difficult, I’ve managed to fly through the curriculum with relative ease (of course, French is a different story). I’ve always been adequately prepared before each course and sufficiently taught the new content. 

Yet, after moving to a brand new state and school district, I’ve realized the order in which content is taught can vary greatly between different districts and states. 

When UA Honors Algebra II students studied trigonometry, I learned how to write equations for conic sections. And it does not stop there.

Freshman in UA learned American History, while I took an AP Human Geography course. 

French students began French I in 7th grade, whereas I took French I and II freshmen year. 

In Advanced English 9, aside from Romeo and Juliet and To Kill A Mockingbird,  I read Oedipus Rex, Of Mice and Men, and The Ilead, and HFLC students read Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451.

With these curriculum disparities between states and even districts, how does this impact students who move mid-high school? How does it affect students who may move around all the time? Why isn’t there a national standard for public school curriculum?

Even beyond curriculum, different high schools teach at different paces and impose different extra-curricular expectations.

My lack of experience and preparation for some of my classes this year has been stressful and a little disorienting. But the support from the UA teachers and my counselor has been incredible. Rohrs has and is more than willing to meet me before school to go over trigonometry concepts. Practically every teacher has told me they will do whatever they can to help make this transition easier for me.

But thousands of other high schoolers move to new high schools each year. I wonder if their transitions are as easy. I wonder if they struggle to catch up like me. I wonder if maybe they were disadvantaged because of the different curriculums across the states. 

I’m not saying that we should immediately pursue a specific outline for curriculum across the country, but perhaps there could be programs or additional resources for students who do go through this change. 

People move schools for all kinds of reasons during their childhood. How can we as parents, administrators, teachers and students acclimate them to these new expectations? It should start with knowing that there is an extra weight on new students’ shoulders as they walk the halls alongside you. It is time to think about giving students who switch schools a bridge to their new curriculum, and it needs to start before that first syllabus is placed on the desk in front of them.