While yesterday's inspection results showed significant improvement in the majority of schools across Dubai, it wasn't difficult to see one of the 'Big-Three' curricula was somewhat underwhelming in its performance.
With 31 schools, the US curriculum is the third most popular in Dubai, holding only one less school than the Indian curriculum at 32 schools and the UK with 65.
There are over 48,000 students (18%) attending US curriculum schools in Dubai, the third most popular curricula in the UAE after UK, and CBSE/ICSE schools. US curriculum schools are home for a wide range of nationalities, however 42% of US school students are Emirati (20,383).
This year, the KHDA's inspectors found only one US school to be Outstanding, while 10 were rated Good, 15 Acceptable and three were found to be Weak, with the latter representing some 4,000 of students.
In fact, the KHDA has found that the US curriculum schools have improved the least since inspections started eight years ago. And more worrying yet, four of the five schools that declined in rating were US schools.
For some, tepid, consolation, US schools do offer the most affordable education for Acceptable rated schools. The US curriculum average for 2016/17 annual fees is AED 29,000 per annum. The next most affordable curriculum is the UK at AED 34,400 The most expensive curriculum in the UAE, in terms of average, is the UK/IB combined curriculum at AED 62,640.
The Best of the US Curriculum Schools
The US curriculum has only one Outstanding rated school - the dual US/IB curriculum GEMS Dubai American Academy, rated top by the KHDA for five consecutive years.
With no Very Good US schools this year, there are however 10 schools rated Good by the KHDA. These are: AL Mizhar American Academy, American School of Dubai and both branches of the Dubai National School, as well as the combined US/IB curriculum- Universal American School (branch) , Greenwood International School, Al Ittihad Private School (BR), both branches of the Al Mawakeb School and Collegiate American School.
Is it Acceptable?
Almost half of the schools considered Weak by the KHDA are US curriculum schools. Moreover the most common rating of US curriculum schools is Acceptable. Fifteen schools have been rated so by Dubai's education regulator.
In addition, The International Academic School dropped this year from Acceptable to Weak, with inspectors highlighting poor student personal and social development, and inconsistent teaching at the school.
They also noted that Governors at the school, “had not as yet replaced the previous principal who had left the school, and the current leadership team were few in number and limited in authority.”
Al Maaref Private School (LLC) was another US school which dropped from Acceptable in 2014/15 to Weak in 2015/16.
Again, the KHDA found the school’s leadership lacking, noting, “senior leaders were aware of the need to improve students’ attainment and progress, but did not always prioritize their strategies.”
And, “parents expressed concerns about communication, the lack of technology and other resources, and the high staff turnover. There was no governing board. The chief executive officer (CEO) focused on financial rather than on educational matters. Staffing, facilities and resources were weak overall. There was a high staff turnover.”
Yet another school falling from Acceptable to Weak was the Dubai Arabian American School in Deira, and again it appears that it is the quality of leadership, which is letting it down.
However inspectors did note, “the new owners of the school had an ambitious vision to improve the school.”
Improving US Standards
This year, the KHDA has begun standardising its requirements for US schools in Dubai, by aligning their curricula and accreditation. This could be the boost US schools have been waiting for.
The KHDA has put into effect a series of expectations, central to which is accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
To facilitate the process, the KHDA has entered a partnership with NEASC to offer US curriculum schools the possibility of synchronised inspection/accreditation visits.
So far, all but one US curriculum school in Dubai has begun the journey towards accreditation. It is understood that the process will take until 2017, when all Dubai’s schools should be accredited with NEASC.
US curriculum schools are also expected to align their standards and assessments with a recognised US state curriculum.
This expectation, together with the demands set by National Agenda Parameter requirements, is working to ensure that assessment in US curriculum schools is becoming more valid and reliable. They will ensure parents with children at US curriculum schools in Dubai will be safe in the knowledge they are not only getting the education they pay for, but one that their children deserve.