I attended the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting yesterday evening from 5:00 to 8:00. Wow! What a really frustrating meeting!
On the good side, the Board was very clear that the District staff needs to be more open with the public about what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it. Moreove, they were clear that the public needs to have a voice in shaping the decisions. Director Carr in particular was very clear and effective on this point. Director Sundquist made the point very well at the end of the meeting. A number of Board members made reference to the anxiety in the community about the LA alignment, but only Director DeBell put his finger right on it: people like and want alignment; it's standardization they don't want. The Superintendent appeared to totally miss the point. It shot right past her.
The meeting opened with a discussion of the players and the roles in the materials adoption process. The Board's role is to provide guidance and principles at the start of the process and to vote to approve or reject the recommendation at the end of the process. The current guidance from the Board is set in the materials adoption policy and is so vague as to be meaningless. The Board members then brainstormed a bit on what they would like their more robust guidance to be - this would require a policy update. The other players in a materials adoption are the Instructional Materials Committee, which is a standing committee, and the Materials Adoption Committee, which is an ad hoc committee brought together for each materials adoption. The role of the Instructional Materials Committee is to review and, presumably, approve the process taken by the Materials Adoption Committee. They do not approve the outcome, just the process. Oddly, no one could say who appointed the Instructional Materials Committee, how they got appointed or even when they got appointed. It is apparently lost in the mists of time.
Interesting footnote about the high school language arts materials adoption committee: everyone who applied to be on the committee was appointed to it. Here's another interesting fact about it: it has only one student parent on a committee of twelve. The staff, however, is perfectly satisfied with their outreach effort and sees nothing wrong with this result.
After a break, the Board reconvened (it was a meeting of the whole and only Directors Chow and Bass were absent) and were taken through a powerpoint on the status of the curriculum alignment project. It was the what when why and how of curriculum alignment.There was universal agreement by the Board members that the community engagement on alignment has been inadequate to date. Oddly, they seemed to believe that if people were just told what it was and what it wasn't - and if they were able to dispel misperceptions about it - that people would embrace the process.
Director Maier, and then, more to the point, Director Sundquist, asked about how earned autonomy would figure in all of this. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson first gave one answer, and then, seeing that it wasn't playing well, gave another. At first she said that earned autonomy did not apply to curriculum. Then she vaguely hinted that a class that met the standards and content requirements could be substituted for a required class, but she added the caveat that it would have to be
subject to certain review. It sounded like death by bureaucracy to me. It was very clear that she was opposed to the whole idea and would make the requirements for substitution such that no course could qualify.
I'm sure the powerpoint will soon be available and you will see that it clearly goes beyond curricular alignment and into standardization of texts for the express purpose of facilitating scripted lessons. They are coy about the language, but it's there. There is no acknowledgement that curricular alignment does not require the
standardization of texts, nor do common assessments nor does professional development - all reasons given that they need to standardize texts. All of the reasons given are spurious. The only reason that survives critical review is for the central staff to write instructional guides and scripted lessons which are specific to the materials.
They may well actually risk engaging the public on this. If they do, one of the critical questions we need to ask is whether it isn't the Board's responsibility to adopt curriculum. They may say that this duty is abbrogated by the State Standards, but the District isn't aligning curriculum to the State Standards. The District is aligning curriculum to the College Readiness Standards. So, again, particularly given that Seattle Public Schools is adopting something other than the State Standards as our curriculum, isn't it the Board's responsibility to adopt curriculum? Also, make them explain in detail exactly why schools need to standardize texts. If students are supposed to learn, for example, allegory in the 10th grade, then aren't there hundreds of books that are suitable for 10th graders that all provide excellent examples of allegory? Why in the world would every class have to read the same one? That is when alignment steps over the line and becomes standardization.
I'm still pretty angry about this. In part, I'm angry that no one on the Board would speak plainly even though a number of them clearly understood the issue. I'm angry also that the Superintendent could so completely miss the point and that no one set her straight.