Monday, September 29, 2003

Response to "Why the Bloomberg/Klein Educational Reforms Will Not Work"

Yesterday, I published an article by Professor Alan Singer, of Hofstra University. Today, I will respond to some of his ideas from the perspective of someone inside the NYC school system. I don't completely disagree with Professor Singer, nor do I completely agree with him. I would love to know what others think!

Singer writes of the city's new coordinated curriculum:
Unfortunately, it is being presented to teachers as a series of scripted directives to be followed by them and the kids. The things that make learning fun and contagious - art, music, dance, drama, sport, play, an appreciation of diverse cultures, friendship, investigation, speculation, the discovery of new things, and the give and take between human beings, are being squeezed out.

"Scripted" is a relative term. In my experience in Region 1, the curriculum has not seemed particularly scripted. Basically, they want us - especially math and reading teachers - to use the so-called "Workshop Model" for each lesson. [I am going to get my materials on this later and explain in more detail.] I don't see this as "scripted." While it is not currently exactly the same way I typically organize a lesson, it is not far off, and I feel confident that a good teacher can adapt to the new format. The elementary school with which we share a building uses Success For All - now that's a scripted curriculum!

I also think that many - though not all - of the things Singer lists as being squeezed out can still be integrated into the curriculum by a good teacher. For example, the students actually have a good deal of freedom of choice in the books they read, which was not true in the curriculum models used by many schools before the reforms. In those programs, the kids read stories from a textbook; now, they choose their own books. There is also nothing stopping a good teacher from helping students cultivate friendships, learn more about their own interests, or consider diversity.

The Arts are in danger of being ignored by our schools. Definitely. And having seen how kids respond to drama classes, I think it's a tragedy.

Singer continues:
In the middle schools and high schools, failure will be compounded as students are forced into extended remediation sessions. Locked into double period blocks of preparation for standardized reading and math tests, they will fail to learn the same things they failed to learn in the past. For lower performing students, perhaps for the bulk of them, not only will the arts be shunted aside, but probably also social studies, history, literature and the sciences.

This is all true. It is not new, however. At my previous school, the students already took 2-3 periods of Communication Arts per day, and often 2 periods of Math as well. This was well before the current curriculum reform, and I know from speaking to colleagues in other schools that it was true in many places throughout the city. It was probably true that the students did not do better on the standardized tests when they got 2 periods with the same teacher, doing the same stuff, than they would have with only 1 period per subject per day. (It would be interesting to see a rigorous study of that, actually... I couldn't prove that the extra time in a subject area made no difference, I just suspect it.) To imagine how awful the double periods can be, imagine sitting in the same seat, in the same room, with the same teacher, studying the same extremely frustrating subject, for 1 1/2 - 2 hours each day! Most adults would rebel. And other subjects, including subjects like Science and Social Studies which will soon have tests of their own, are neglected. Worst of all, the kids who could probably benefit most from trying something new & possibly discovering a talent - those who are doing poorly in academic subjects - are the least likely to get any "enrichment" subjects like Art or Music.

More to come....


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12:58 PM  
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