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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

High School LA Curriculum

This got brought up in another thread and someone asked about it.

So the basic answer is that this district swung very far in the direction of site-based management. And now? We are swinging the other way. People don't like change and they particularly don't like change that challenges their way of doing things.

We have had some discussions at Roosevelt (indeed, we invited LA department teachers to come in and talk to the members at our PTSA meeting last Wednesday). Now when our PTSA heard from the district earlier this year, we were told this was going to be phased in over three years. Teachers at RHS are convinced there will be changes as early as this fall.

Basically, the district wants to align the curriculum from school to school for a couple of reasons. One is that there are enough students who transfer from school to school and find completely different things happening. Another is that the district wants to have some continuity about what is happening from school to school. I can see their point somewhat.

Roosevelt has probably the most expansive LA offerings of any high school in SPS. It is strong and well developed and it is to their credit. I think 11th and 12th graders should have strong choices.

But, of course, they are not keen on changing. (Also, this department really does have a pretty strong stance on a lot of things like not wanting to teach AP classes. So, RHS has no LA AP classes. There is some irony in this as there have been parents who have wanted to discuss this issue of no separate AP/Honors classes and the LA department won't to it. Now the LA department finds itself at the mercy of the district over changes the district wants and the district isn't likely to change what it wants to do.) The RHS LA department believes is is not going to have much autonomy at all.

The district is working with the various high schools and teachers and asking for input on book lists, etc. RHS says it is a rushed process, the district isn't being clear on their information despite requests for more information. The district has admitted they likely don't even have the money for a complete alignment.

And this is where it stands. I think the Board probably has heard from quite a few RHS parents (and maybe other schools as well). I can't attend the meeting today and so if anyone else does, let us know what questions the Board asks.

19 comments:

Dorothy Neville said...

There's a google group set up by a RHS teacher discussing this. There's also a Facebook page with information and discussion. It appears that there is money from some grant (Alliance?) that must be spent by August 31 and is earmarked for books. So come hell or high water, they plan to standardize the LA courses and have very limited choices of texts. Even though there's no state mandate for this. The books will be purchased before August 31, but the work to create the courses will take some time. It isn't clear actually how much work that will actually happen. They aren't really talking about aligning assignments, assessments and all that, there isn't money to do that. So all they really are doing is aligning the texts. But given that there isn't money to fund all the work to develop the curriculum, perhaps the books will show up and the boxes will just sit and sit. District can keep extending the expected completion date over and over, just like it does on so many things.

Renee said...

Hey they're doing the SAME thing regarding science at Garfield. Its so frustrating. Very top-down. I understand alignment to some point, but would prefer it in middle school so that students have a choice of the things they want to specialize in in high school.

Dorothy Neville said...

I actually have conflicted feelings about this. Although other people tell me their child's RHS LA experience has been wonderful, me, I haven't been impressed.

And what goes around, comes around. All the reasons for the alignment brought forth by the district are exactly the same as the reasons the RHS SS department (with full support of principal and the LA department) gave to eliminate a popular history course and require all 10th graders to take a standardized social studies course (note. old class - history, new class, social studies, not even the same type of class.)

Now the same folks who gave us AP HG are up in arms about not being part of the discussion, that this is moving too fast and that it eliminates choice and will not increase rigor. Hmmmmm... Just what many parents and students felt last year.

They also want to use the HS Math adoption as an example of something that ought not have happened, that parents clearly don't want it, so we should not compound our mistake and do the same thing for LA. Well, as I point out below, that's a tricky argument to make given that the chair of the RHS Math department and the RHS principal came out strongly in favor of the math adoption.

here's an excerpt from my email to the google groups discussion:

------------------------

I am also seeing some irony here. Just last Spring, The Roosevelt Social Studies department --- with express support of the LA department and the principal-- decided that they could improve education by standardizing 10th grade SS curriculum. The many benefits include:

* better professional development and support if all teachers were teaching the same course
* better alignment with LA classes for more effective instruction
* would eliminate self-selecting of classes, which is tracking, and tracking is evil
* would increase rigor (ignoring fact that the AP HG class is objectively less rigorous than AP Euro)
* would fulfill Social Studies EALRs (ignoring the History EALRs that do specifically require Western Civ)
* The AP Euro course would still be available to Seniors as an elective (ignoring the fact that few would have room in their schedule)

As Brian Vance said to the school board in support of that plan, having only one course avoids the problem of having one course become more popular than the other. Enrolling everyone in the same course is a way to clean the slate. Logically, this would indicate Mr Vance would be in favor of this new proposal.

Mr Vance specifically said that content was not a factor in rigor when he argued that the AP HG with its different content would be just as rigorous, with just as high expectations. I have the exact quote in my notes from a PTSA event, I can look it up. It was at a round table discussion with Director Martin-Morris and Mr Tolley.

Now that the district is trying to do exactly the same thing district-wide with LA, the department is in an uproar.

Oh, and the math adoption analogy? Well, I don't know if that's such a strong example. Mr Christensen came to a PTSA meeting and expressed his specific hopes for approval of the Discovery Series. He said that it would be fine, that the department was strong and could teach well with any material. Mr Vance also publically supported the math adoption. So trying to argue that we shouldn't make the same mistake with LA that we just did with math? Well, neither the principal nor the head of the math department thinks the math adoption was a mistake.

Charlie Mas said...

I attended much of the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee yesterday during the discussion of the LA alignment and materials adoption.

You're not going to like it.

In anticipation of CORE 24, when students will be required to take four years of LA to graduate, the District will create required courses for all four years of high school, LA 9A, LA 9B, LA 10A, LA 10B, LA 11A, LA 11B, LA 12A, and LA 12B. This will pretty much wipe out any LA electives because there are very few, if any, students who will take LA electives in addition to a required course every semester. They say that students will be allowed to replace the required course with an AP class, but it's unclear how long that will last. It was exactly the situation and rationale that led Roosevelt to essentially disallow AP European History.

Following the alignment will come the materials adoption. The way I heard it, the District will mandate one text per semester and will restrict the set of optional texts to four per semester. Why the need for a restricted list? So the District can script a set of differentiated lessons for the texts for teachers to use. It seemed to me that if teachers assign more than four texts a semester they are free to choose any text they like.

Honestly, the conversation was very hard to follow. Direct questions from Board members did not get direct answers.

The Board members expressed a number of concerns. One, that required LA courses for all four years of high school would kill the LA electives. Two, that teachers would not have the freedom to select texts. And three, that the staff was running way out ahead of the public engagement or even the communication.

Believe it or not, the staff were astonished that the Board didn't think that their communication effort had been sufficient. They essentially said that there hasn't been a role for the community to play to date, so why was there any need to communicate anything to them.

By the way, the staff got members of the community for the materials adoption committee by asking the department heads at each school to submit names. Each department head submitted one name and each of those people were appointed to the commitee. That one channel was the only one they used. The department heads themselves will also be heavily represented on the committee.

Anther Board concern was that the staff were taking off and doing the work in the absence of any sort of guiding principles from the Board. The work has been going on for some time - like two years - without the staff even informing the Board of the effort. The Directors tried to make it clear that the staff need to get that high level direction from the Board BEFORE they start the work.

The staff did not appear to agree.

Charlie Mas said...

Oh! Since the state hasn't established any EALRs or GLEs beyond 10th grade, the District staff set the curriculum for alignment for grades 11 and 12. In doing so, they usurped the Board's statutory role to set curriculum.

That fact was not lost on the Board members of the C & I Committee.

ParentofThree said...

What's next, close the school libraries?


Where can we get this list of "approved" books?

Dorothy Neville said...

Charlie, I understand it is one required text per semester, one chosen from a list of four and ALL the rest must come from a longer list. Unless that scenario has changed.

The googlegroup has a .doc with a first cut at a proposed list of books, notes from a meeting of the text adoption committee of May 19th. The actual list of books is what the LA adoption committee will decide. Evidently LA teachers were given something like 48 hours to propose their choices. Now the Adoption committee will create a plan, choose criteria, read the books and make the final decisions. So we will not know what the books are until we go through that process, same as the math text adoption.

The notes from that meeting make clear that we are doing things in this funny order simply because the grant to purchase books expires in three months. AFTER the books are purchased, then supporting material will be created and then the adoption will be implemented. But there is no money earmarked for standardizing writing instruction.

So even though everyone will teach from the same set of novels, there is no emphasis on actually standardizing or assessing skills development. Exactly opposite of what seems rational to me.

I am pleased to see that the board is noticing the district staff's choice of standards -- from the College Board -- and are noticing that this is nothing mandated by the state and that using a document prepared by a for-profit education company usurps the board's authority. But this isn't anything new. Kathleen Vasquez referred to the College Board document back at the RHS PTSA meeting months ago. I asked her why she was using that and she replied that "it was good." I commented as such on this blog at the time. There's a link to the College Board document on the district LA alignment webpage. I'm not really sure why the board hasn't noticed any of that until now.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well thanks Charlie and Dorothy. This is a lot clearer to me. Somehow I missed that there was an LA every semester leaving almost no room for electives. Once again this district is in a hurry-up mode over money.

The Board should face this down. If they cave (despite the fact, as Charlie said, that Board policy is not being followed), then we know that they are not a strong Board and act accordingly.

hschinske said...

"So even though everyone will teach from the same set of novels, there is no emphasis on actually standardizing or assessing skills development. Exactly opposite of what seems rational to me."

As an old English major myself, I could not agree more. Among other things, what a recipe for teacher burn-out, and what a poor model for teaching a love of literature!

(Word verification: ductiliz. I take it that means "become more plastic and malleable," i.e., buckle under?)

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

I know that the text list - how many and which ones - is confusing. Like I said, there wasn't much clarity offered at the meeting and there has been essentially no communication with the public. I could have gotten it wrong or it could have changed. It was almost impossible to understand the way that they explained it.

A couple other points of interest from the meeting. They are starting with the 4th grade and the 9th grade and the effort is being funded out of - get this - capital interest. That means that this project is a high enough priority to get funding out of the interest generated from the capital reserves, but retaining teachers is not. Hmmmm. Nice priorities.

Charlie Mas said...

Oh! A few more random points.

Director Martin-Morris specifically asked how this material adoption would be effected by the earned autonomy from the performance management system. The response from Michael Tolley was clear: earned autonomy does not apply to core curriculum. Well then what DOES it apply to?

I misstated in my previous post. Capital interest will fund the acquistion of LA materials for the 4th and 8th grade next year.

Kathleen Vasquez said that the core listed in the alignment is strictly a minimum with a strong expectation that much more will be done. Unfortunately, in K-12 public education, floors become ceilings. Rather than a minimum, the core will quickly be perceived as a finish line.

seattle citizen said...

I'm in favor of some alignment of common texts, common strategies, common assessments....some.

But from what's being said here, it sounds like it's gearing up too quickly, and Charlie's notice that it is being funded by capital interest while educators are being riffer (can't use the interest for jobs, apparently) is an eye-opener.

Unknown said...

I was at yesterday's (May 26 Curriculum) meeting at the Stanford Center - at one point Ms. Vasquez explained the timeline - after working on this for the past couple of years, seemingly under her own direction, she met with the High School Steering Committee, who said that they were "going forward with alignment" in Math and Science and she said, "Why not Language Arts?"

SHE bumped the schedule forward, and the Steering Committee apparently "agreed to oversee the Alighment work this year", with report-out dates, scope, and sequence etc.

This was news to the Directors present, Mr. Martin-Morris and Ms.Carr, both of whom appropriately did what they could to back the train up and return control of things to the Board, scheduling a work session to create the overarcing guidelines and goals. Bravo Mr. Martin-Morris and Ms. Carr. And Thank You.

The whole process feels very fly-by-night; LA Alignment is buried under Literacy, with a single hyperlink at the School Board website, instead of colocating with other Alignment docs and links. If you weren't looking for it as hard as you could, you would never find it.

BTW - re: Math Adoption, there are two beefs that people have. One is the continued use of a philosophy that encourages students to embrace math by drawing pictures and explaining their feelings about numbers while neglecting times tables and the fact that the brain builds connections by repetition and familiarity, not just "getting it." The other is that the PROCESS of adoption bypassed the very board members who then had to go out and try to defend it to the frustrated parents and students (and more than a few teachers!). To say that it is ok because the RHS math head said that his dept could use Any Text is to miss the point. The process was apparently an end-around the key players charged with ensuring statute is adhered to and that the needs of the community are met.

And yes, APGeo is no substitute for a real AP course - now that ALL students are in AP, it is necessarilly dumbed down for the most challenged (or willfully disengaged) students (yes, we must admit that slackers really do exist and they drag a class down). So says an insider who may never have the opportunity to study her own heritage (Euro history) because the field has been -- not leveled, but -- sunk.

Dorothy Neville said...

Well, there's always college. My son is looking forward to college and getting a real Western Civ course.

As for the math adoption analogy, perhaps I wasn't clear. This was meant as a cautionary tale to the RHS LA teachers using math adoption as a argument against the LA adoption. They are pointing out how terrible the math adoption was. I am just reminding them that within their own school, they don't have support of that perspective. From parents, yes, but not from other leaders in their school. Not that they cared about parents when the decried the self-selecting of AP Euro as racist and did away with it in the spirit of equity. Seems pretty funny that that same "equity" is turning around and biting them in the a$$.

I have to admit I was surprised that Mr C so adamantly supported the math adoption, but there you go.

Me? Well, we are out of here. No more Seattle School district drama for this family. Done.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's another item from the meeting that I totally failed to mention:

NOVA isn't part of any of it.

NOVA simply is not participating in the exercise in any way, shape or form.

All through the talk to the Board, Kathleen Vasquez would say that all of the department heads were there - except for NOVA.

I don't know what you might think of NOVA or the NOVA community, but I would encourage motivated, passionate, or self-directed students and their families to look into it as a viable choice for almost any sort of student.

Check out the test scores - the SATs in particular. Check out the student survey results. Check out the teacher survey results. There is a lot of challenging, authentic education happening at NOVA, and not just in the subjects tested on the WASL.

Charlie Mas said...

The staff said that the LA Alignment web page would be updated today, but it wasn't.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm glad that this "alignment" in curriculum is happening...but not to Nova. I'm glad to see that this "standardization" of bell times is happening...but not to Hale. Oh, and there are to be no late start days at the high schools..except for Hale which will have them every Tuesday. (Several have later start days a couple of times a month except for Hale which has them much more often).

And who will be the "exceptional" schools that by-pass the Assignment plan?

This is why all this talk of wanting to be able to know how EVERY student is doing at every school is nonsense. Some schools, for whatever reason, get to carve out a place of their own. Bless them for their ability but the rest of us might like it as well.

Charlie Mas said...

NOVA has the autonomy to be exempted from these curriculum alignments because it is an alternative school. It is the only alternative high school (other than the "service" schools) since Summit is closing and The Center School has chosen NOT to be alternative except in assignment (there's Mel's "exceptional" school that will be exempted from the assignment plan - will Southshore K-8 have an attendance area or will it be an Option school?)

I believe that Cleveland, as a STEM school, will not have an attendance area and will therefore be an option school as well. Does that mean that Cleveland will also be exempt from the math and LA alignments and materials adoptions?

With the simplification of the assignment plan there will only be three kinds of schools: attendance area, option, and service. The rules for each of these types of schools will all be the same. So if Southshore (or The Center School, or Cleveland or any other school with ambiguous status) is an attendance area school, then that's what it is, and if it is an option school, then that's what it is.

dan dempsey said...

While I am a bit late to the game with this comment in regard to LA and Math ... here goes:

Thompson's assignment is to manage curriculum in Seattle Public Schools ... it appears this assignment is a failure in some regards.

While I certainly find failure to be the case in mathematics curriculum management, where the district has been very confused for a long time by a Central Admin with little knowledge of what needs to be done, is the same true of Language Arts?

Although I am far from a Language Arts professional, I can read data. As Seattle's math achievement gap grew over the last decade, the WASL achievement gap in reading shrank. The School Board Directors allowed a flawed math direction to continue, largely due to their lack of understanding of the nature of mathematics, mathematics instruction, and student learning of mathematics.

The Language Arts situation may be similar in that the board may know as little about the complexities of Language Arts as they do about Math. The similarity ends when looking at the Administration's leadership of the two projects ... in Language Arts the leadership is from a program manager who has tremendous knowledge of both the content and successful programs...
Score:
Language Arts adoption leadership 2
and
Math adoption leadership 0

(on those two points).

If changes needed to be made, it is good to have a qualified captain at the wheel. Thats is an enormous difference between the Language Arts and Math instructional materials adoptions. Hopefully the Board and the Public notice the difference.