An American curriculum will be based on the US-wide Common Core State Standards for English, language arts, and maths, as well as standards set by individual states for all other subjects including fine arts, history, geography, PE and science. Some states also adopt the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but not all. Others align their PE lessons with SHAPE America’s national standards.
There aren’t too many basic differences between schools that follow an American curriculum and schools that don’t as your child will still be studying the core subjects – learning how to read, spell, count and so on. However, the US curriculum is less structured and prescriptive than the National Curriculum for England, for example, because US states have more freedom to decide what their students learn and how lessons are taught. It is also broader for longer than the UK curriculum, with students studying all subject areas right up until the end of high school (18 years).
So, what does this mean for international schools that offer an American education? As well as following the Common Core and NGSS, schools in Hong Kong may teach the AERO (American Education Reaches Out) curriculum, which is a US government-approved curriculum specifically for internationally-based US curriculum schools.
Kathy Abel at AIS highlights the strengths and international appeal of a US education.
“The US-style of learning is very-inquiry and interest-based, project and play-and interest-based; there are opportunities for students to explore passions, they drive and often play a role is designing certain learning experiences. We have a lot of freedom for exploration, finding strengths, trying new things and taking risks.”
Any international school teaching the US curriculum must also be accredited by one of four US-based approved agencies – NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges), MSA (Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges), WASC (Western Association of Colleges and Schools) and Cognia. The majority of Hong Kong US schools are accredited with WASC.
When considering a US curriculum school, do look out for the key requirements that will ensure that the value of your child’s education is assured. There are essentially three key criteria to check - Accreditation, One state curriculum, and Standards-based testing.
In the US, all students take state-based examinations called ‘Regent’, ‘Star’, ‘MEAP’ etc. depending on the state. As this is not possible overseas (no US state will sell its exams to a provider outside), US international schools use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardised tests, generally three times a year, in Grades 3 – 9 at minimum. Students in the high school sit AP (Advanced Placement) exams which count towards their final US High School Diploma in Grade 12.
Head of School at Stamford American School, Hong Kong, Karrie Dietz, adds:
"The US education system provides a solid foundation for students as young learners, and has strong alignment from grade to grade which prepares students well for graduation including the International Baccalaureate Program. The system also develops aspects of the whole child at all levels including secondary school.
"Focusing on academic, physical, and social emotional development – as well as offering a wide variety of subjects – promotes well-rounded individuals who are inspired to find their own path and have the skills to succeed in succeed in an evolving world."
Next: What makes these American schools ‘international’?