Sidwell’s Curriculum Changes Are Unnecessary and Convoluted

Sidwell recently unveiled new curriculum changes to be implemented in upcoming years. While the administration spent many years researching these changes prior to the announcement, they are largely unnecessary and lack clarity, most notably regarding alterations in the Science Department.

Sidwell plans to rearrange the order in which students take Upper School science courses, with freshmen taking physics, sophomores continuing to take chemistry and juniors taking biology. While students will still be exposed to all three sciences, the new system discourages academic flexibility, leaving less room for them to customize their curriculum to their interests. The updated structure would leave only senior year open for science electives, while the current system allows both juniors and seniors to choose their science courses.

Furthermore, ninth graders lack the math skills necessary for a full understanding of physics. Even more basic physics courses require some understanding of calculus and trigonometry, subjects not usually covered prior to ninth grade. Teaching physics courses simplified to a ninth-grade level would be unproductive, especially given that the accelerated class options would necessitate even more rigorous math concepts.

For students coming from Sidwell’s Middle School, the jump to freshman physics would be even less logical. Sidwell’s eighth-grade science course covers a mix of chemistry and ecology and, therefore, transitions well into ninth-grade biology. By replacing biology with physics, students’ progress from middle school would be cut short. Additionally, with a less comprehensive understanding of physics from ninth grade, students who choose to take advanced physics courses during their senior year will face more difficulty. Even more convoluted is the plan to phase in these changes, entailing three years in which both a freshman-level and an upperclassman-level physics course will run simultaneously.

While the administration spent many years researching these changes prior to the announcement, they are largely unnecessary and lack clarity.

Not all of the changes are negative, however. The math department, for example, is currently developing a plan to unify math programs across all grade levels, creating a more cohesive curriculum between the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools. This plan is a much-needed attempt to create a more seamless transition from fourth to fifth grade and from eighth to ninth. As other departments undergo the course evaluation process, they should also focus on transitional years and mitigating the jump between Sidwell’s three school divisions.

While the impending curricular changes are well-intentioned with the aim of increasing connectivity across grade levels, these modifications — especially the new order of science courses — are unnecessary, creating disorder and new challenges as they are put into practice.