"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Trouble With Scripted Curricula (part I)

Well, we are in the first full week of school with the Empowerment Schools in Philadelphia using a new, heavily scripted reading curriculum. The K-6 Students are using Imagine It! and grades 7-8 are using Glencoe Literature. Arlene Ackerman is convinced (or at least she says she is) that these curricula will spur our students to new heights of learning. This system was implemented even for schools (such as mine) that achieved AYP last year. Our Reading Specialist posed an interesting question today: If we made AYP using Trophies and Elements of Literature (our former, well-regarded reading programs), WHY do we not get to keep using them?? Why are we instead using a repetitive, mind-numbing set of books that even young kids can see the flaws in? The most obvious explanation seems to be that Arlene has no faith in her teachers OR her students. Good teachers, using the core curriculum and the Pennsylvania State Standards can teach reading very well, and differentiate instruction without reading from a script. Most of us have been doing this for years--all the while providing for the differences and idiosyncrasies in our students' interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Much current reading research that has been done in challenging, urban classrooms like many of Philadelphia's, reaches the conclusion that great and successful reading instruction is cross-curricular, culturally sensitive and relevant, and makes use of students' experiences. Scripted curricula are antithetical to most of these goals and best practices--they do not engage students or give them credit for their intellect. A recent study on African-American and Latino boys' disengagement from school found that these young men need to feel they are not disrespected in order to be engaged in learning. Believe me, most of my middle grades students feel disrespected and devalued by a scripted curriculum. Students in the most impoverished neighborhoods still have thoughts and dreams and ideas that they want to read about, talk about, and write about. That reading, writing and talking IS learning, and it usually includes higher order thinking--something that scripts do not allow for. I do not believe that many parents will be in love with these scripts, either. Today, as a second grade parent stopped by a colleague's classroom to drop off his son from a medical appointment, he paused and said, "WHAT are you doing?" The teacher replied that it was the new reading curriculum and that she would explain more during back-to-school night. If his comment is any indication of the reaction of the rest of our parents, it is going to be very interesting. We are always being told that ALL students deserve their teachers to have high expectations for them--and good teachers truly believe that and try to honor it daily. It is the scripted curricula and the people who promote it that do not have enough respect for and belief in our students to trust that they can learn without being condescended to.