The Principal’s Office:

Kussin’s common core


As explained in previous columns, out of frustration with the wrangling over the Common Core curriculum after all these month (years?), I am offering my own suggestions as to what the ideal secondary course of study should look like. And as I’ve noted, many of these proposals are applicable on the elementary level as well.

In the previous columns, I talked about English Language Arts. Before leaving that curriculum area, I want to respond to the commonly asked question: “What about electives?” I already discussed the value of an all-elective program to turn students on to reading and writing. Now I’m talking about electives taken in lieu of traditional bread and butter courses.

There are two opposing viewpoints on this subject; both have their merits. On one hand, some schools permit students to opt for electives in lieu of the standard course. For example, students may take “Journalism” or “Drama” rather than “Junior English.”

On the other hand, some require students to take the traditional, prescribed English class in each grade. Electives are just that — taken for elective credit only.

My say? Take a middle road. If it can be ascertained that the elective incorporates reading, writing, speaking, and listening, the four major components of any English Language Arts program, then I would permit the substitution. If it can’t be so substantiated, then these courses should be reserved for elective credit only.

Let’s move on to Social Studies. I’ll deal with the middle school first. I’d like to see two changes effected: First, some curriculum “mapping,” whereby the course of study is spelled out for each grade resulting in less repetition. I realize that Ancient, World and American History are studied in high school. But I’ve seen some unnecessary duplication within the lower grades.

Second, I would like to see the infusion of more geography. I find many students are absolutely clueless; New Jersey is about as far as they can see. Many know little about the other 49 states, let alone the rest of the world. In our shrinking world and global economy, this is crucial knowledge.

Now on to the high school level. “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In this case, I’m not proposing anything new; rather, I want to go back to the way things were when I was in high school. I believe the sequencing made the most sense.

Fortunately, the Social Studies requirement is now back to four years. But how should those eight semesters be used? I would maintain the current emphasis on World History (and Geography, as noted above) in the ninth and tenth grades. Changes come in the eleventh and twelfth grades. Junior year should be devoted to American history. The fall semester should be the first half, starting with the period leading up to the American Revolution and extending up to the time just before the Civil War. 

The spring semester of the junior year should pick up with the Civil War — and the Industrial Revolution. This is the logical time (not the senior year) to insert Economics. The fall of the senior year should focus on the final third of American history, beginning with World War I and continuing until modern times. The spring semester is thereby reserved for a course in Government, which schools are delivering in a variety of ways. 

As I said, this was how the four years were used when I went to high school. Many of our readers probably remember this course of study. I think it works best.

Next up: Math. Unlike Social Studies, this subject has undergone several changes in recent years — ranging from integrating the various subjects to studying them separately. Math is a major obstacle for many students. Hence, I’ll defer to the “Math Mavens” on which course of study is the best for Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Advanced Algebra, etc.

Rather, I want to focus on how it is delivered. I firmly believe that ALL students should be required to take four years. (Please, no letters, emails or tomatoes!) It is necessary in our competitive world. To accomplish this goal, Math should be viewed as a continuous curriculum. In other words, students should advance to the next course/module as soon as they’ve demonstrated mastery in the previous one. This may entail some fancy footwork when it comes to the scheduling—but it’s well worth it.

In addition, struggling students should be given options: math labs, double periods, and stretch courses (over a year and a half). Students seen as hopelessly failing early on should be moved to “start-over” classes.

Accelerated students should be encouraged to take some form of Calculus. 

Extra help (homework helpers, non-special ed extra help, peer tutoring, weekend school, and the like) should be readily available for struggling students.

Following this plan with students not only taking more math but also being more successful will result in a giant step towards solving our educational supremacy.

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Dr. Steven Kussin was a high school principal for 21 years. He is also an adjunct professor at Hofstra University and an educational consultant for school districts around the country.  Contact him at