The New York State Education Department has been pushing Common Core implementation at a rapid pace, even forcing last spring’s new aligned state assessments on schools even though teachers had little opportunity for training and preparation. Giving teachers time to prepare and create lessons on their own is the key to any quality classroom experience. Educators know their students, grade levels, and courses. When given the time to collaborate with their colleagues the results can be appropriate and creative lessons for our children.
So why the rush? NYSED officials say “We can’t wait”, throwing out the “college and career ready” soundbites. Is the lightspeed Common Core implementation part of the reformers taking away the professional judgement and skills of educators? NYSED has started to promote its curriculum modules for Common Core alignment. Many educators from around New York see these modules as a scripted lessons and curriculum, but will schools and districts urge or force their teachers to use these units from the EngageNY website?
I have been hearing a variety of responses about the use of EngageNY curriculum modules produced by Core Knowledge. Some schools are giving teachers the option to avoid the EngageNY modules or possibly modify with their own touches. But this freedom is not universal. Educators commenting on my previous pieces on the Common Core modules on this site and in Facebook groups have said that their schools are requiring or strongly encouraging the use of these scripted lessons. It seems schools under the gun for low test scores or those who worry about the consequences of test-based accountability will mandate use of these programs.
The goal of the Listening and Learning Strand is for students to acquire language competence through listening, specifically building a rich vocabulary, and broad knowledge in history and science by being exposed to carefully selected, sequenced, and coherent read‐alouds.
My worry is that even classrooms that are free from the curriculum mandates will still use the history and science topics in these ELA Modules as their content in those academic areas. If schools chose to adopt the topics dictated by Core Knowledge I see trouble ahead. We have seen an erosion of time devoted to social studies and science in many elementary schools as the focus has shifted to ELA and math. Are we trying to teach history and science by artificially throwing these subjects into ELA blocks?
Here is a graphic from a July Network Team Institute training meeting. The history and science topics contained in the ELA domain units displayed show what the presenter hopes will create “connections” within and across grade levels. I would guess these folks are trying to show how the Core Knowledge curriculum will create “broad knowledge” by building on previous learning.
I am not buying the logic that is being used here. The history topics are randomly placed in the primary “learning strands“. I raised this concern in a comment in a previous critique of the modules. An official from Core Knowledge which produced the Common Core modules for NYSED attempted to defend this curriculum by saying that the material was covered in the previous grade. Learning about the “New Nation” in First Grade will not effectively transfer to Second Grade for the War of 1812. There is too much time between learning and not enough connections in Second Grade. Second Grade goes from Early Asian Civilization to Ancient Greek, then Western Expansion and the War of 1812? I can tell you from nearly twenty years of teaching history that randomly “covering” topics makes no sense whatsoever. History is full of cause-effect and thematic connections. I teach Seventh Grade history up to the Reconstruction Era of the 1870′s. Would I start the year with the Civil War then jump to Colonial America, maybe throw in Pre-Columbian Native Americans at the end? Of course not.
If the topics of the history based ELA modules become the limited social studies content then students will suffer. Previous New York State Standards had an appropriate connected content for each grade level. If local schools follow NYSED’s lead and mandate the use of the topics outlined by the primary level modules historical knowledge will not improve. Is this part of trying to teach science and social studies within ELA? Does this increase information text in place of fiction?
Here we have more proof that the current education reformers do not trust educators. A scripted curriculum has been created by people far removed from our classrooms (and at a cost of $12.9 million). We cannot allow a corporate entity to determine our curriculum and teaching methods. Educators should be involved in the process of creating the content and skills students should acquire at each grade level. Teachers know their students, subjects and grade levels. Educators need to resist these ELA modules using sound pedagogical reasoning with administrators who choose to push these poorly designed and mechanical lessons into classrooms.
Follow Chris Cerrone on Twitter: @stoptesting15