Thursday, November 19, 2009

Community Meetings for Curriculum Alignment

The district has announced public meetings to "share" information about curriculum alignment in our high schools. (I really doubt they will change their plan but you can try.) From the press release:

The high school curriculum alignment projects will result in aligning high school Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and World Languages core classes to college-ready standards, revising course offerings in academic subjects to better prepare students for college, careers and life and providing professional development for teachers to support their delivery of the aligned curricula.

Seattle Public Schools instructional leaders will discuss our alignment work and provide more information about the upcoming instructional materials adoption for high school Language Arts courses, to be followed by adoptions for World Languages and Social Studies for 4th and 8th grades.

So there you elementary and middle school parents; it's coming your way as well.

Now don't laugh at the timing of the first two meetings but here's the list:

Monday, Nov. 23
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Rainier Beach High School
8815 Seward Park Ave. S.

Tuesday, Nov. 24
6:30-8:00 p.m.
West Seattle High School
3000 California Ave. S.W.

Monday, Nov. 30
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Ballard High School
1418 NW 65th St.

Tuesday, Dec. 1
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Garfield High School
400 23rd Ave.

I know, Thanksgiving week, who has anything else to do?

19 comments:

emeraldkity said...

What nothing on Friday?

SPS mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KSG said...

I assume it is _The Kite Runner_. What's wrong with this book for 10th graders? Is it too much of a page turner?

mkd said...

Not even in high school, my boys read Kiterunner as part of a summer reading program when the book first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. The author even came and read the first chapter. Personally, I'd like to see books on the list that not only challenge our teen's minds but are also thoroughly enjoyable: 1984, Jane Eyre (not only for girls), anything Shakespeare, but maybe some of the comedies first, Don Quixote, Pride and Prejudice, and even some of the Canterbury Tales (I'm sure I'll take some hits for this), Beowulf, Iliad and the Odyssey and Basic to Baghdad. In fact, many of the books listed on the 12th grade list should be included on the 10th grade list. What about some fantasy like the Garth Nix, Eddings, Heinlein or Tolkein? I'd even include some of the graphic novels all the kids love to read. Except for the graphic novels (I'm not big on comics), I've read most of the books I'd like to see as part of the new LA reading list. A big part of LA is reading, therefore, a reading list that inspires kids to read means will keep them reading. Reading needs to be fun. I know, because my kids and their friends often spend hours at the downtown library.

One thing I'd like to see included in LA are a review of basic writing skills: how to create a thesis, the five paragraph essay, how to create a character analysis, printed format guides that lay out step-by-step how the teacher expects the paper to look like, maybe an example from previous years, etc.

mkd said...

Almost forgot to add, I hope that local 2- and 4-year colleges were consulted. Any curriculum alignment is useless if it does not prepare a student for college. Remedial classes at the college level cost money and result in no credits toward degree and/or transfer.

LynneC said...

I feel incredibly frustrated by the timing of these meetings. First, coming so quickly after the SAP vote, when everyone is suffering from "school board/district monitoring fatigue" (a new disease I just made up). Second, the dates are just ridiculous in terms of the holiday. Now that elementary schools take the whole week off for conferences, I know of a LOT of families who arrange with teachers to do their conferences early and just leave town for the whole week. I really can't imagine more than a couple of people showing up at the Tuesday night one in particular. Some community outreach.

mkd said...

I almost forgot to add all of the Arthurian tales, many included in Le Morte de Arthur (I always mess up the title or spelling). This was one of my 9th grader's favorite books. He slowly worked his way through all the tales and finished a month ago. He put it down to read every Harry Potter novel, Eldest and Brisinger, and the myriad of "must read" series books as soon as they are released.

mkd said...

LynneC, you are so right. I'm not going to be able to attend because we are out of town. I believe that's the idea. This way they can pass a new LA curriculum that is designed to put high schoolers to sleep. What are our options?

LynneC said...

I have absolutely no illusions about it making a difference, but I have emailed Harium to express my disappointment and to request that he work with the district to reschedule the meetings. I know from a curriculum & instruction policy committee meeting that I attended last May that the board is well aware of how important community engagement is on this issue, and doesn't want a repeat of the process used for the math adoption. On the other hand, no matter how many people show up, it's hard to imagine that the meetings are going to accomplish much anyway, other than allowing the district to say that the community was involved. But I would have liked to at least attend one of the meetings, which given the timing and my family's schedule, I won't be able to do.

Charlie Mas said...

I'll be going to these meetings and raising holy hell.

I am an absolute supporter of curricular alignment and I utterly oppose standardization of texts.

Seattle Parent said...

Is it just coincidence that the two meeting prior to Thanksgiving break at RBHS & WSHS, are without either MGJ or Tolley, whereas both Ballard & Garfield have both?
hmmm...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Seattle Parent, how do you know they won't be there?

Seattle Parent said...

Melissa,
A friend forwarded this to me, I think through the PTSA circles:

Curriculum Alignment Community Engagement Meetings:

-- All meetings will be held from 6:30-8:00 pm
-- District staff to attend as listed below

November 23rd
Rainier Beach High School
Dr. Susan Enfield, Chief Academic Officer
Cathy Thompson, Exec. Director Curriculum and Instruction
Kathleen Vasquez, Curriculum Alignment Project Manager


November 24th
West Seattle High School
Dr. Susan Enfield, Chief Academic Officer
Cathy Thompson, Exec. Director Curriculum and Instruction
Kathleen Vasquez, Curriculum Alignment Project Manager


November 30th
Ballard High School
Dr. Goodloe Johnson, Superintendent
Cathy Thompson, Exec. Director Curriculum and Instruction
Michael Tolley, Director of High Schools
Kathleen Vasquez, Curriculum Alignment Project Manager


December 1st
Garfield High School
Dr. Goodloe Johnson, Superintendent
Cathy Thompson, Exec. Director Curriculum and Instruction
Michael Tolley, Director of High Schools
Kathleen Vasquez, Curriculum Alignment Project Manager

Charlie Mas said...

Here's something to be very careful about when you engage the District staff on this issue. Make sure that they are very precise in their use of terms.

Begin by defining the nomenclature. What do they mean when they say "materials"? What do they mean by "Standards"? What do they mean by "content"? And most important, what do they mean by "curriculum"? They will get very shifty on you, and if someone misuses a term you should immediately interrupt and correct them.

Aligning the curriculum is good and necessary. Standardizing the materials and pedagogy is bad and must be avoided. They don't believe that they can monitor the curriculum, so they intend to enforce standardized materials and pedagogy as a substitute for aligning curriculum. It's like serving maggots instead of rice. They may look alike but they are nowhere near the same thing.

There is already a pretty good explanation of curriculum alignment - what it is and what it isn't - on this blog.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I want to echo what Charlie said on nomenclature. The district uses terms, both within the broader educational community and within the district, in many ways. They don't always define them. This is very true in Facilities where they might say "roof" and you don't know if they mean they patched it, fixed half or replaced the whole thing.

mkd said...

Two things: (1) for any changes to be relevant, local community colleges must be involved; (2) wikipedia in any form has to be prohibited as a "viable" resource for teachers as well as students.

Charlie Mas said...

I attended the community meeting on curricular alignment last night at Rainier Beach High School.

First, I am much less worried about this curricular alignment effort being nothing more than standardization.

Second, I am much less confident that this curricular alignment will ever happen at all.

Third, I am seriously worried that when this curricular alignment effort fails, we will get standardization instead.

Let's not forget that the District has tried this sort of thing before. I remember in 2001 everyone filled in the second eye of their daruma when Joseph Olchefske announced that we had completed the transition to a Standards-based Learning System. As of that day every teacher was teaching to the Standards in every classroom. HA!

For curricular alignment to work, Seattle Public Schools would need to do three or four things that they have NEVER been able to do before.

(continued...)

Charlie Mas said...

(... continued)
A. Early and Effective Interventions. Curricular alignment requires students to be at least somewhat prepared to work with the grade level curriculum. That will require early and effective interventions for students working below standards in grades K-10. We don't have that now, we have never done this, and I don't see any changes in the obstacles to providing them. Each school determines their own response to students working below grade level (if they can identify them at all). At most schools there is no response at all. The District remains convinced that retention is not effective, but I have yet to see how social promotion without acceleration or intervention is effective either. We are told that a systemic District-level response is coming. Curricular alignment simply will not work without it.

B. Confirm Curriculum is Taught. For curricular alignment to work, someone has to confirm that the teachers are teaching the curriculum. That isn't happening now and I don't see any changes in the obstacles that have kept this from happening. I'm told that principals are starting to do this, but I don't know if they can create consequences for non-compliant teachers. This, of course, was already supposed to be happening, but we all know that it isn't. So what's going to change to make it happen? And how will the District address teachers who refuse to conform? Will they fire them? Really?

C. Professional Development. The teachers are going to need lots of training and support on the Standards and the Academic Expectations. They are going to need a lot of training on how to provide differentiation. They are going to need a lot of training on how to get students to exercise higher order thinking skills. I don't see any change in the obstacles that have prevented the District from doing this in the past. The District has already spent millions of dollars for years and years trying to help teachers do these things without success. What will be different this time?

D. Equitable Access to College-prep Courses. There is absolutely no excuse for the District's failure to require all middle schools to offer honors and advanced courses and all high schools to offer honors courses, advanced courses, and/or AP/IB classes. Curricular alignment won't work without it, but I don't see any change in the forces that have prevented some schools from offering the basic set. Starting with the District's refusal/failure to define the basic set.

If you go to one of the Curricular Alignment meetings - and I encourage you to go - don't worry so much about the standardization of texts. I have learned more about that and fear it less. Don't worry about some standardization of pedagogy. I don't fear that either. But you should ask them about these four elements. They are not directly part of the curricular alignment effort and therefore the people working on curricular alignment don't control them. Without these elements, however, the curricular alignment effort is doomed.

Then you have something to fear. Because in the absence of authentic curricular alignment, the District will instead grope for some statistical emulation of it, and that will take the form of standardized texts, standardized pedagogy, and all sorts of bastardizations of curricular alignment, right down to "on this day you will be on this page", which can only be hellish.

Don't worry about what schools will be like if curricular alignment works. Worry instead about what schools will be like if it fails.

Charlie Mas said...

Just a couple more random notes.

I kept asking about whether curricular alignment will extend to the service schools and the alternative schools and they kept saying that it would.

So even in the service schools, Middle College, South Lake, and the dozens of others such as the one that meets at Southwest Family Services, the same curriculum will be taught with the same texts to the same Standards.

That's going to be interesting.

A big part of the argument for curricular alignment is around students who change schools. For the majority of students who change schools, one of the schools in the change is a Service school. Don't forget that 13% of our high school students are in these Service schools. Curricular alignment will not work if it does not include these schools.

In addition, under the new student assignment plan, many more students will be changing schools than before. Our family's attendance area high school is Franklin. If my child starts high school at Franklin and then we move to West Seattle, she will have to change schools with the school year after the move. She can apply to stay at Franklin, but it would be strictly as an out-of-area student in the lottery with all of the others and with no preference.

For a district that is convinced that changing schools is bad for children, this new student assignment plan requires students to change schools when they change neighborhoods. The old plan allowed them to remain at their school after a move.

I asked, after the formal presentation, how will this look at NOVA? How will this look at Cleveland STEM with the project-based learning? I was told that those schools would find a way to deliver this set of knowledge and skills in their way.

As far as the standardization of texts in high school LA classes, I've really calmed down about that. If you think about it, among the knowledge that we want children to learn, we do want them to have familiarity with a certain set of texts. For example, we expect high school graduates to have knowledge of allegory, but also expect them to be familiar with Moby Dick and Animal Farm. We expect them to know what iambic pentameter is, but we also expect them to be familiar with Romeo and Juliet and other Shakespeare plays. So the texts are part of the content that we want them to learn.