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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/28/15

LEARN WHAT IS A CURRICULUM, even AS NY Times Opinion Piece Lauds Common Core

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The word CURRICULUM confuses most people, which is why the current morass in education was easy to create. MY 40 year experience with using and writing genuine CURRICULA offers readers here an authentic look at what a curricula should do, and what it did for me.

However, I begin by directing you to the blog of renown educator Diane Ravitch who also read the NY Times opinion article today, on the Common Core and had this to say:
"In the NY Times piece, Natalie Wexler, a D.C. based writer commends the Common Core, E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum, and New York's "EngageNY" modules. Wexler maintains that the standardized tests did notcause curriculum-narrowing. She says that schools have long given preference to skills over knowledge. She believes that Common Core will reverse that unwise preference."

Diane explains that she (like me and all genuine classroom professionals) has "always preferred a balanced approach that includes both skills and knowledge." Diane Ravitch, was not only Under-secretary of State (for 2 administrations) she was a member of the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation for many years.

She states:" I don't think that the Common Core standards will unleash a fervor for knowledge because it is really just more of the skill-based approach that Wexler decries. Presumably she wants states and districts to adopt the Hirsch Core Knowledge curriculum, as the "EngageNY" modules do. I think she would be wise to read those modules. Teachers and parents have complained about the overload of information in them.

Diane includes a selection from the first-grade module. YOU should read it and consider that some first-graders are just learning to read. Few, if any, have a context into which these facts can be assimilated.

Look, folks, this ain't valid curricula, but it is what teachers have to use. Let me explain what curricula looks like.

I read the piece in the Times, and thought back on my 40 years of teaching, during which time I was seldom given any guidance as to what to use to teach anything.
Yes, in NYS we had a curriculum guide of OBJECTIVES FOR LEARNING. Simply put, this GUIDE offered age-appropriate tasks for each grade and subject; for example: what a 7 year old in second grade should be able to DO -- the SKILLS NEEDED to think critically, and it suggested tasks to accomplish this.
The professional in the room, i.e. the teacher, often chose the materials that obtained the results, according to what she/he knew well and found interesting (enjoyable for the level the students), A lthough textbooks were sometimes available , they were often outdated and boring.

The classroom professional PRACTITIONERS must be the ones to choose appropriate and interesting materials that are familiar to them, and thus, be able to match the materials to the needs of those kids who sit before them by writing the curricula. The children are the 'patients' who will benefit from the practice, but it will be the teacher who will be blamed for the failure

Knowing the emergent learners who sit before them, knowing the developmental learning tasks, and knowing what materials can work best, is why the PRINCIPAL HIRED this practitioner in the first place.

Choosing the classroom curriculum for that group is what I always did, and what I did so successfully, that my kids were always at the top of citywide tests-- back then in the nineties... before the tests were manipulated so that schools would appear to be failing, and teachers could be demonized.

Treating teachers like trained monkeys, demanding they use the crap that the local school board has purchased at great cost, and following mandates by legislators and school boards with not a whiff of knowledge of educational practice -- is at the CORE of the Curricula crap foisted on teachers.

I chose, for example, books by Beverly Cleary in grade 2, because the kids loved the characters and the stories. When I was assigned to teach grade 7, where the students are 13, one of the curriculum tasks was : 'to learn to appreciate and recognize irony'.
So, I chose O'Henry's "Gift of the Magi", and Guy De Maupassant's,"The Necklace," and Bradbury's "The Fog Horn," because (from my education in literature) I KNEW THEM And LOVED THEM... AND I knew they were engaging stories that these smart kids WHO SAT IN FRONT OF , would be able to access and enjoy.
I WAS THE EXPERT IN THAT ROOM, AFTER ALL. If I had been in another school, with different kids, I WOULD HAVE CHOSEN APPROPRIATE MATERIALS to do the same thing!!!
Thus, you see, it was I, the classroom teacher who wrote the classroom curricula for the seventh grade at East Side Middle School, based on state CURRICULUM OBJECTIVES!
Moreover, these particular stories used language, sentence structures and punctuation, in ways that these youngsters could hear and SEE , as I read to them! (Yes, I always read out loud, as they followed in their texts. Nancy Atwell, decried the lack of an adult voice reading to middle school children, in her book 'In the Middle' which informed my practice when I accepted the seventh grade assignment and had to write MY curricula for the entire grade.)
Had the school's administration told me to use other materials, that I was unfamiliar with, I could have done it, but this was NEVER the case---back then before the plan to cause public education to fail was hatched.
Thus , the stories I chose ENGAGED the kids, showed language at its most interesting, provided correct usage, and allowed me to create lessons that accomplished the CURRICULA OBJECTIVE GOALS.
The MOTIVATION that I would use to engage the kids WAS ACTUALLY required on my lesson plans. I cannot imagine how my young students would be motivated today, by explaining that they had to learn the stuff 'in order to pass a test!'
You see, back in in the 20th century, when the grunt on the line (i.e. the classroom teacher) was TASKED with ensuring that seventh graders grasped sentence structure and punctuation, I needed engaging materials. I hated the Warrener's grammar book which MY sons were forced to endure in the seventh grade in East Ramapo, and which I had used when I was a substitute teacher there. So,I copied a few useful chapters, in order to back-up class instruction, particularly on clauses, subjects and predicates. ME! I CHOSE, but I used reading, in order to teach writing... which BTW...is genuine 'whole-language' philosophy.
Well, let me be clear -- I had no choice but to ferret out materials.
All they gave me was a room with desks and chairs... (something that was actually missing in one of my earlier assignments in NYC!)! There were no blackboards--- let alone books.
But there was no curriculum of any sort... just lots of feel good meetings from our director on creating a great school. This director of that new magnet school, never gave me a single paper that outlined what the seventh grade outcomes should be. She was busy promoting this new magnet school -- and herself... and so she had hired a professional, experienced staff that knew what to do!
And we did know... putting the school at the top of NYC in 2 years. MY work attracted Harvard and the standards research, five years later.

What is germane, however, today, is that this Core Curricula promoted by Duncan and clones, enabled the CONSTANT MANDATES FROM people at the top, often people with no classroom experience, who tell the classroom practitioner what to use, and evaluate them by subjective rubrics like kids scores on tests, or anything that pops into their heads.

Documenting teacher incompetence is the task of to many school administrators today, and they are very creative at it, using and misusing core curricula mandates to demonstrate teacher incompetence or insubordination.

Yes, physicians who are experienced professionals, too, are expected to use certain practices and medicines and to know what works and what is a magic elixir,* but they are also tasked with KNOWING WHAT WORKS, and that is why the BEST doctors are experienced . * You might want to read my essay on Magic Elixirs, which is based on Daniel Willingham's work

The public schools today are starved for funds, and by firing the experienced professional and hiring novices who do not know how to write curricula and will follow bogus learning modules, they keep the budgets low. Failing schools are the results, and the same would happen of hospitals if this was the practice there.

I do believe that the problem lies, also in the college preparation of teachers. Ed courses are often terrible. I know. My own were a devastation, at it was only through practice and study on my own, that I came to know what worked.

Thus, novice teachers need curricula guidance and a choice of materials to meet the learning tasks for each age. Critical thinking skills are not hard FOR PROFESSIONALS to teach.

Engaging our current American youngsters to DO WORK...is quite another thing, which is why the TEACHER needs to choose and write the curricula for the class that sits before her!

But then what do I know... I was only the cohort in NYC for the REAL, GENUINE AUTHENTIC, National Standards Research on THE PRINCIPLES OF LEARNING, out of Harvard, funded by Pew, studying tens of thousands of teachers... to learn WHAT THE HECK WORKED.

Oh, you never heard of it? But you have heard of the NCLB act, from which the testing mania was developed along with the core 'curricula' that powers it.


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I began teaching in 1963,; Ba and BS in Education -Brooklyn College. I have the equivalent of 2 additional Master's, mainly in Literacy Studies and Graphic Design. I was the only seventh grade teacher of English from 1990 -1999 at East Side (more...)

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