Set the guidelines, not the syllabus

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The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board passed recommendations Thursday that would alter the state’s mandatory core curriculum at all of its higher education institutions.

Driven by cross-campus credit transferability, the revisions have the challenge of dictating the “knowledge and skills” with which every postsecondary pursuer needs to be equipped. In its revision, the board believes students should have knowledge of specific “component areas,” such as mathematics, communications, life and physical sciences and history. The board also outlines “core curriculum objectives” in which students should have skills such as critical thinking, empirical and quantitative skills, teamwork and social responsibility.

Though this foundational competency stamp-of-approval veers toward a factory type of model, having these basic expectations is not completely unreasonable. Students who come out of Texas’ higher education institutions should be able to meet a standard, and despite an inherent difficulty in measuring and tracking performance, there is little harm in setting these expectations.

Where the board’s revisions overreach, however, is in trying to dictate which skills should be taught in which knowledge areas. Through a 10x7 table of commandments, faculty members will find out that communication skills will need to be taught in math classes, while personal responsibility will need to be taught in psychology classes.

The revisions change the board’s role from oversight to classroom management. The board’s job should be to set the guidelines, not the syllabus.