On Programs, Broken Promises and Why We Aren’t Finland

Lapland Finland Reindeer

A few weeks ago the New York City Department of Education announced that it was recommending new “high-quality” Common Core-aligned curriculum materials for schools to adopt next year so that students can, in the words of the DOE, “realize the full promise of the Common Core Standards.” These materials have been developed for the city—at what must be considerable cost—and for ELA they’re giving schools two choices in the following grade bands: Core Knowledge or Pearson’s ReadyGen for K-2 classrooms, ReadyGen or Expeditionary Learning for Grades 3-5, and Scholastic’s Codex or Expeditionary Learning for Grades 6-8. (High school options are still to be determined; information on Pearson’s ReadyGen is not yet online.)

The City has emphasized that these are recommendations not requirements, though it’s unclear whether there will be any protocols—or repercussions—for schools not choosing one. And, perhaps needless to say, this move has made me heartsick, as has the backlash it’s set off against balanced literacy and workshop models, which, in certain circles, are now being deemed failures.

Behind-Rebel-Lines-Reit-Seymour-9780152164270Part of what so disheartens me is that we’ve been here before. Balanced literacy and workshop were, in fact, seen as antidotes to packaged, one-size-fits-all programs that used short texts and excerpts to teach isolated skills to students—without any real significant achievement results. The new programs preserve the one-size-fits-all model, with a mix of short and book-length texts to be read by everyone in the class, but the texts themselves are different. They’re authentic—as in, not abridged or watered-down—but they’re often poorly matched to their designated grade levels in order to meet someone’s notion of complexity. Take the anchor text for a ReadyGen third grade thematic unit on “A Citizen’s Role in Our Government”, for instance: Behind Rebel Lines by Seymour Reit. It’s a nonfiction account of a Canadian girl who posed as a boy during the Civil War in order to  join the Union Army, and while it looks like a fascinating book, Scholastic’s Book Wizard lists it as having a Grades 6-8 interest level, a 7.2 grade reading level, and a guided reading level of T. Hmm. When did third grade become the new seventh grade?

And then there’s the questions that come with the texts. They’re the kind of questions found on standardized tests, minus the multiple-choice answers. And they’ve been broken down into categories, which align to the bands of the Common Core Anchor Standards and, again, the tests. For the following paragraph from the preface of Behind Rebel Lines, for example, students are asked this Vocabulary question: “What does feminist mean and what context clues in the ‘To Begin’ section help you determine the meaning?”

Behind Rebel Lines 1A

And for this passage, which appears on page 3, students are asked a Key Ideas and Details question, “Why did Emma say the billboard had ‘fancy wording’? Which words might be considered ‘fancy’ and why?”; and an Integration of Knowledge and Ideas question, “What does the sentence ‘the country was in peril and had to be saved’ mean? Use your own words to restate this.”

Behind Rebel Lines 2A

Now imagine that you’re a third grader who, in New York State, has not yet begun to explore history in social studies, which means you might only have a foggy notion of the past and no knowledge of the Civil War or how women’s roles changed over time. If the teacher has followed the program instructions, she would have reminded you to “adjust [your] reading rate as [you] encounter unfamiliar words.” But even with that, how would you begin to answer these questions? And why would we ask you to beyond the need to prepare you for a test based on someone’s narrow, mechanical, but definitely testable, interpretation of the Standards?

And that brings me to another reason I’m heartsick. Having actually welcomed the Common Core Standards for the emphasis they seemed to place on reading for deeper levels of meaning, I now find myself feeling disappointed and duped. And in that, I’m not alone. In addition to educators like Diane Ravitch and Tom Newkirk who’ve reversed their original thinking on the Standards because of the industry that’s cropped up around them, New York State Principal Carol Buris also went from being a fan to an opponent as she realized she’d been naïve. Here’s how she puts it in a piece posted by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post‘s “The Answer Sheet“:

“When I first read about the Common Core Standards, I cheered . . . . I should have known in an age in which standardized tests direct teaching and learning, that the standards themselves would quickly become operationalized by tests. Testing, coupled with the evaluation of teachers by scores, is driving implementation. The promise of the Common Core is dying and teaching and learning are being distorted.”

Outsourcing CartoonFinally, I’m heartsick for another broken promise that’s explicitly stated in the Standards: that teachers would be “free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgement and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.” By engaging in the development and adoption of scripted programs, the New York City Department of Education has demonstrated yet again it’s lack of trust in teachers. And they’ve, in effect, outsourced the critical thinking work of teachers to a corporation, whose priority is shareholder profits not children, and turned teachers into delivery systems instead of professionals with sound judgment.

How a teacher who’s not encouraged to think critically and independently can possibly support students to do so is completely beyond me. And this is where Finland comes in. Not investing in teachers’ professional capacities—which means giving them the time, resources and supports to collaboratively learn and deepen their understanding of both content and pedagogical craft, not training them to implement a program—flies right in the face of what top-rated systems, like Finland’s, have done to produce change. Those systems all used what Canadian educator and writer Michael Fullan calls “effective drivers” for whole system reform. These include a commitment to develop the entire teaching profession, a belief in teacher ownership, and trust and respect for teachers. Accountability, on the other hand, which he defines as “using test results and teacher appraisal to reward or punish teachers and schools” is at the top of his list of “wrong drivers.” And this is precisely what New York City is using to try to drive school change.

And so, while I know my dear city will never have reindeer, Moomintrolls and the midnight sun, until it starts heading in Finland’s direction, I fear that I’ll remain heartsick.

Moomintroll 1

From one of the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson

57 thoughts on “On Programs, Broken Promises and Why We Aren’t Finland

  1. “…they’ve, in effect, outsourced the critical thinking work of teachers to a corporation, whose priority is shareholder profits not children, and turned teachers into delivery systems instead of professionals with sound judgment.”


    “How a teacher who’s not encouraged to think critically and independently can possibly support students to do so is completely beyond me.”

    So true. This makes my heart very heavy. How to function in such a world, one where “delivery” becomes more important than thinking, where “accountability” becomes more important than responsibility?

    • I seem to remember your saying at some point that you were on your district’s committee looking at possible programs. And such is the sorry state of the the times that it seems a great thing that a district would actually have teachers in on the decision making, which NYC didn’t do—at least not in any public or transparent way. The UFT, though, is backing the plan because they don’t want teachers to have to shoulder all the blame if these programs don’t work. And while I definitely get how awful it’s been for teachers to be pilloried for problems beyond their scope, this step is just awful for students.

      But, on a more positive note, we seem to be on parallel paths once again, first with Finland then with Jane Hirshfield. I read your post about voice the day after I’d been working with an 8th grade teacher on designing a poetry unit that would use some quotes about poetry to launch an inquiry about why we might read and write poems. And among the handful we chose was this from Jane Hirshfield: “Journey far enough in the terrain of language, it seems, and the heart will begin to speak.” Now I think I have to read Nine Gates.

      • Yes, our small school district is in the process of developing an ELA curriculum. I’ve been involved, at various stages, in that process.

        Interestingly, the process is more complicated than simple participation (or not) by teachers, a complication that points out some of the ways responding to years of crises manufactured first by NCLB, and now by Race to the Top have actually eroded our capacity for conversation and dialog, which makes positive change that much more difficult. While not the same as the corporate takeover that seems very blatant in the NYC example, this more general erosion of institutional capacity, I feel, is one of the untold (and very sad…) stories that emerges from the policy decisions of the past 10-12 years. I’ll probably write about that from my perspective soon. But this recent article by Eric Shieh from THE ANSWER SHEET captures some of the way these policies have eroded capacity, and the important (but daunting) task of reclaiming learning for kids:

        On a happier note, I love the Jane Hirshfield quote you mentioned, and the idea of starting a poetry writing unit of study with deep quotes like that. (Just where do you get all of your wonderful ideas…!) Through watching A Year at Mission Hill, reading about Finland, and, through an online community that includes your blog (and the classrooms you work with, Renee!), I’ve found some wonderful examples of classrooms that keep the spirit of learning alive in these times.

    • I’m a veteran teacher, in a career that’s spanned almost 30 years. Not only have states and districts outsourced teachers’ critical thinking opportunities, they’ve begun to view students as “data bundles.” These students aren’t being taught to think beyond the knowledge levels required to pass tests. The tests are owned and maintained by the same corporate textbook monopolies that drive this curriculum. Students’ critical thinking skills are much less developed than even 10 years ago. The arts? Often, districts scrap their art, music and drama programs, replacing them with coding classes.

      Do I have a heavy heart? You bet, I do. Retiring in 3 months to run an extracurricular visual arts program.

      • Students as “data bundles,” what a horrible expression! And, yes, I agree that its worse than it was 10 years ago, before the Common Core came out. But I do think I, you, Steve and virtually all my other readers are doing whatever they can to push back on a system that sees kids as data bundles. And god only knows how badly we all need the arts these days, especially children. So bravo to you for starting an arts program. It’s what kept me alive during my school years. And Ellin Keene’s new book Engaging Children comes out next month, and she specifically advocate for teachers to create opportunities for kids to have aesthetic experiences across the curriculum. That and a renewed interest in social-emotional learning make me hopeful. But one can only shudder at rubrics that attempted measure things like empathy, aesthetic engagement and joy.

  2. I’ve been feeling the same frustration and disappointment, Vicki, and am so glad to see you articulate this. It seems that schools feel forced to go with these programs because they think it’s going to help them align with the assessments, which will help them “succeed” in terms of scores and grades. But not only do programs such as these in NYC take the teachers out of the equation they take the students out of the equation. Everyone is so focused on the standards that we’ve lost sight of the reason for the standards: the students — oh, and why reading and writing might matter for them to begin with. Our work, if we can sustain it, is to make sure that any alignment happening in any classroom starts with the students.

    • It’s all ass-backwards, isn’t it? And while I’ve heard several say, “Don’t worry, it won’t work,” I fear the amount of damage that will be inflicted on students while we wait for these forecasts to come true. Because you’re right, it’s the students who will suffer the most under these programs, with the struggling students at risk for the most harm. It’s hard to believe how we got to this point—though, I’m sure Tom Newkirk is right when he says, “Just follow the money.”

  3. I fear that there are only a small number of educators right now who see and understand the precipice we’re headed over. Once teachers are so worn down by the demands of the new evaluation systems, by the lack of time afforded to collaboration and substantive and embedded professional development, they will, in their exhaustion, choose what’s handed to them. In what is seeming a “no-win” situation, why wouldn’t the average teacher choose a package that seems to offer promise? That is why it is so critical that you and others of us keep in the forefront, the humanity and potential of the Common Core- both for teachers, and most importantly for the students we teach. We do that by supporting our colleagues in the joy of reading and writing and creating, so that they can impart that joy every day that they teach. The small numbers of us must campaign for the promise of the Common Core. It really is the only way forward. And in my opinion, so much more than test scores rides on what happens in the next 5 years.

    • So well put, Margaret! Teachers are so incredibly worn down by a system that doesn’t value them that they’re bound to be tempted by a program that promises to relieve them of virtually all responsibility. And while I don’t usually go for conspiracy theories, there is something almost dastardly in the way the initial promise of the Standards has been taken over by big business. And, yes, this is not about test scores, this is about children’s lives and what might happen if we turn off a generation of students to reading and writing. The only bright spot seems to be how many more of us are beginning to speak out and how many events are starting to crop like this one, which is slated for May in New York: http://reclaimingconversation.blogspot.com/2013/02/schedule-of-events_18.html. I’m not sure where you’re located—nor if I can actually go—but here’s to raising voices in the name of humanity and joy.

    • Exhaustion and elimination is what they are counting on. Get rid of pure education as defenders of society; big box automaton ed for the masses, secluded/secure/selective ed (free of these burdens) for those who are fit and/or privileged.

      • As I said in a comment yesterday, I do tend to shy away from conspiracy theories, but with this it’s getting harder and harder to do. If you haven’t already caught it, here’s another great post from Diane Ravitch who raises the question asks whether what’s behind so many of these moves is stupidity or malice: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/12/nassp-the-danger-of-misguided-evaluations/.
        And then there’s this scary article from the NY Times. It’s about Mexico but could be about us, if we turn off a generation to reading: “The Country that Stopped Reading,” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/opinion/the-country-that-stopped-reading.html?pagewanted=all
        Here’s the ending: “But perhaps the Mexican government is not ready for its people to be truly educated. We know that books give people ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity. If tomorrow we were to wake up as educated as the Finnish people, the streets would be filled with indignant citizens and our frightened government would be asking itself where these people got more than a dishwasher’s training.”

  4. I have many thoughts on all of this. I, too, am heartsick. If you don’t know what a wonderful classroom can be, how can you miss it? What will “they” say when the programs fail to get the promised achievement levels? A homogenous group is an oxymoron……when you put two kids together they have different abilities and needs…..(I didn’t make this up! It was a wonderful educator who gave a speech in Rochester at the NY State Whole Language Conference in the 90s, but I forget her name, maybe Lynch), so to think we can have a classroom with one script meeting all the needs is equally absurd. All that you say is true, Vicki. I have often made this analogy: if NASA when they were tasked with putting a man on the moon had been treated as teachers are when a new program comes along, they would have been given a nickel and 2 days to figure it out and then declared huge failures because they couldn’t do it.

    The word ridiculous and desperate comes to mind. Where are the writers and advocates of the Common Core? The general premise isn’t bad, but in education Don Graves wrote an article years ago, “Beware of Orthodoxies”. Classrooms are situation specific. There is no script, there can be no guarantees. And success is measured on many more levels than what a test can show.We need thoughtful, gifted, creative, inspired, enthusiastic, hard-working, happy, engaged, smart, committed teachers. Where are we going to find them if their workplace environment is going the way it appears in this sad time. What kind of teachers will this attract? My only hope is that an idea as unworkable as this will not and cannot succeed and will, like a house built on a foundation of sand, collapse by its own weight. And this is not to say there are not decent things in the Common Core IDEAS…… Is there room to improve teaching? Yes. Are we going about it the right way? I don’t think so. There is more to human growth and development than what happens in school hours. The home has a huge part in a child’s success or lack there of. We need eager parent partners, too. Thank you, Vicki.

    • Responsive teaching—where teachers listen carefully to what children are saying and build on their responses—can’t be packaged and sold, which is a problem in a country like ours that increasingly influenced, if not controlled, by corporations. And the move the city’s made may have the profoundly unfortunate effect of creating the kind of brain-drain that happened when Bloomberg took control of the districts and many, many smart, hard-working, inspired, creative and deeply committed people left the system. I do think, though, that there’s a lot of us out there who are more and more willing to put our voices out there. And that’s at least something to hold on to as we see how this thing plays out.

      • vvinton,
        well said, I teach Science and not English, but that is exactly what I do… listen to the students and change my delivery as needed. With Common Core (if it ever gets to Science) I will be required to follow a script and will NOT be able to change it.

    • I heard Core Knowledge has a kindergarten unit on kings and queens-and they’re not talking fairytales. I just wish we could do something to deepen the media coverage about this, as not so long ago PBS did a spot comparing basals, Core Knowledge & balanced literacy, and they seemed to suggest that Core Knowledge was a great program—and far more preferable to letting children choose what they want to read. How does that happen?

      • Glen Beck is all over Common Core and he has 4 million people who listen and/or watch him. This is a big step for those who think CC is bad.

      • So interesting–and wonderful–that here’s a place where both right and left agree. There has to be power in that!

  5. Vicki,
    Thank you for writing this. I believe there are so many heartbroken souls out there. The question then becomes how can we change this? In any other field the “experts” would be consulted and yet so many changes are happening without any expertise at all. I also see teachers taking on what they are told to do in an effort to comply to the standards. Where the Common Core is NOT a curriculum, many schools are making it just that!

    • So much heartbreak and so much loss—of spirit, talent, expertise and joy. I just hope that you’re able to keep the flame alive at your summer institute, which I want to think might be an oasis, or a pool of sanity. inspiration and calm, amid all this craziness.

  6. At the TCRWP Saturday Reunion earlier this month, Lucy Calkins shared some questions from one of these programs about Charlotte’s Web. One of them asked “What color was the pig?” I was dumbfounded! How is that a rigorous question? How does it encourage critical thinking and deep understanding? But the examples you provide from ReadyGen’s program are mind-boggling. At least Charlotte’s Web is an appropriate text for third grade. Lucy advised the teachers in Riverside Church that day to build their knowledge base. It’s up to us to examine these programs carefully, and it’s up to us to declare, as Lucy put it, that “the emperor has no clothes.” Thank you for this eloquent post and your help in building our knowledge base.

    • What’s so scary, Catherine, is that City schools are being pushed to make a decision without having these products vetted at all—in fact, I gather that none of them are even completely finished. And as of last week Pearson had want ads up for a ReadyGen Project Manager and a Curriculum Specialist. What’s also disturbing is that between the pig question and the samples I’ve seen, you have to wonder whether anyone who’s working on these actually is a reader, let alone one who’s worked in schools. It’s appalling. And it turns whatever was good and promising about Standards into a test-prep sham. But I do feel the push back gaining momentum. There’s an event called “Reclaiming the Conversation on Education” at Barnard in May that’s already sold-out for teachers, scholars and ‘other concerned citizens.’ They’ve got an impressive line-up—including Carol Burris, who I quoted in the post, and Susan Ohanian, who’s a powerhouse–and they’re going to offer live-streaming, if you’re interested. http://reclaiming-eorg.eventbrite.com/.

      • I want to re-iterate Catherine’s comment, “Lucy advised the teachers in Riverside Church that day to build their knowledge base. It’s up to us to examine these programs carefully, and it’s up to us to declare, as Lucy put it, that ‘the emperor has no clothes’.”
        Teachers must know their content, otherwise they will be in the same position of that third grader who has only a “foggy notion” of the past. Teachers must also know the abilities of their students. You are able to expose the weaknesses in the Pearson materials because you know content and because you have experience with third graders.
        The critical issue is that the new teachers in NY and other states that require use of ReadyGen or Scholastic pre-packaged materials will latch onto these materials for dear life without understanding why they may be unsuitable for all readers. Frustrating for students and for the next generation of teachers.

      • Building teachers’ knowledge base is exactly what I think building capacity is all about, Colette. And to do that means providing teachers with the kind of PD that helps them more fully own and understand what they’re teaching so that they can critically assess, evaluate and question both these programs and their students themselves like I did in the post–and like I’m sure you and Catherine and a score of other smart, thoughtful teachers do every day in their classrooms.

        I know, of course, that’s not always easy–and it’s certainly not speedy. But providing teachers with the time and support they would need to do that would almost inevitably cost less than paying Pearson and Scholastic to develop programs and then have schools purchase them and their training materials. The fact that we invest in these outside products instead of the human capital already in our schools is another reason why we aren’t Finland. And as you so rightly said it keeps not just students but teachers in the fog, which isn’t where deep learning happens.

  7. Thank you for this blog and especially this post, Vicki. I have been following you for some months–your blog being one way I can be in contact with likeminded educators. Heartsick is the perfect word to describe my the state of my professional life these past few weeks. I moved out of the classroom a couple of years ago and into a network literacy coaching job with high hopes for bringing better literacy instruction to the city’s neediest middle school students. I have made baby steps at my schools toward more authentic literacy instruction, getting principals to order books, getting teachers to confer more effectively–and now this. The rug has been pulled out from under my efforts and it’s been hard to feel very good about being a part of this inane bureaucracy. Most principals are grabbing for this Codex curriculum as fast as they can. How do you coach a teacher to ask packaged questions with texts the kids can’t read?

    • I work in a few schools who want to opt out, but none of us are sure what will happen at that point. So I completely get that rug-pulled-out-from-under-you feeling. I also have a few schools that are buying the programs with the hope of using them as resources, without committing themselves to the scripts—and those schools will definitely still need support, as will schools who follow the program and see that their students are shutting down. The problem is that while at first glance they looked like great resources to me, so many of the texts (in my humble opinion) aren’t really suitable for the grade level they’re aimed at. The Codex sample I saw for 6th grade, for instance, looked really interesting until I read the text more carefully and realized that kids could only go so far with it because, like the 3rd grade ReadyGen sample, it wasn’t meant for 6th graders. You could move that text into 8th grade, where it might be a bit more suitable. But then what do you do with the poor 6th graders? It’s such a mess, though it is good to know that we’re not alone in our feelings.

  8. Wow! You just articulated the feelings I’ve been trying to squash for months. When I first began reading and analyzing the Common Core Standards, I was so excited. I began adjusting my own classroom to begin guiding myself in the direction of the Common Core. Deeper reading, draft reading, complex literature that I had cast aside in the name of “student interest,” things were rocking and rolling. My students were responding really well and things were looking great. This was when I was the only one doing it, and I had the autonomy to do as I saw fit. Suddenly my district began “preparing” for the Common Core by creating unit plans to be distributed to the teachers. I joined the committee for preparing for the Common Core only to have my enthusiasm destroyed with every unit plan suggestion followed by the non-negotiables in terms of teacher buy in. Teachers would have to teach these units or they would receive unsatisfactory evaluations. It was ugly. No conversations about what was best for students were had. It was all about teachers, not even in any specific content area, making decisions for teachers across the district.

    I was excited by the suggested titles and literature outlined by the Common Core. Thinking my arguments for teaching novels in my high school English class would soon end, I was soon deflated when my supervising principal held a meeting with the English department to assure us that we are “misreading” the Common Core if we think that fiction is on “its way back.” We were told that only short stories would work because 70% of our class needed to be non-fiction. I can only draw one conclusion: those at the top are just plain dumb. I know they’re really not, but what can a girl think? In my twelve years in the classroom, I’ve learned one thing for sure: good teaching will always result in good learning. I REFUSE to teach a test prep course, but somehow my students always outperform the rest of the school and district (and I always teach the struggling and at-risk students) on the statewide common assessments. I taught them well, deeply, and thoroughly, and they learned. These tests are what are ruining the education in this country.

    • I think that there are many of us who have been feeling this way. And whatever we’ve been doing to ignore those feelings just isn’t working anymore—especially as what we’re being asked to do keeps getting worse and worse. And I think we’re being asked to do those things, not because the people in charge are stupid (though that’s possible, too), but because they are afraid.

      In terms of the fiction/nonfiction question, here’s link to an article written by David Coleman and Susan Pimental, the two main authors of the Standards, that says in no uncertain terms that the 70% nonfiction number is meant to include reading across the content areas, not just in the English classroom. (And so you know, they use the term ‘stories’ loosely; it just means fictional prose, whether it’s short story, a novella or a novel.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-pimentel/the-role-of-fiction-in-th_b_2279782.html. Given that the science and social studies classes will be almost exclusively nonfiction, the percentage of nonfiction in English should be more around 20-30%.

      In the best of all possible worlds, what should have happened in your school was an invitation for you and others like you to share what was working in your classrooms, and for the staff to explore and experiment with those practices to see what worked best for their students. Then a real conversation could happen. That’s the model that Ontario used to turn their schools around, which Michael Fullan wrote about here: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/05/what-america-can-learn-from-ontarios-education-success/256654/. And that puts students front and center, which is where they should always be.

  9. Pingback: On Programs, Broken Promises and Why We Aren’t Finland | adventuresinstaffdevelopment

    • There does seem to be a change in the wind. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed as well that we can start having a real conversation about what kids really need.

  10. Thank you for this wonderfully written article and true view on the problems in our educational system. I feel that all teachers need to read this post! I am teaching in the US but I went to school in Europe. I am always daunted by the way “new ideas” are being implemented in the school system here. I feel that many of the good ideas get turned into “standardized check lists” However, there is nothing standardized about educating a child!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and providing a place for others gain insight and share as well!

    • I fear that we tend to be a society that’s always looking for quick fixes and short cuts, which as you said wind up being turned into those standardized check lists. And the problem with standardization and short cuts is that they tend to measure what’s easily measured, not what’s really important, which I think is the uniqueness of each and every child. Now . . . if we could only hold on to that idea for more than a few minutes we’d be set!

  11. Thanks Vicki,

    You’ve eloquently stated a confusion and frustration many in NYC are feeling. To NYC DOE’s credit they are being clear that all of these are “optional” and driven by the desire to have a bulk discount (the main function of the decision came down to that, who could contract the best bulk price while suggesting some “quality”). The scary thing is that the quality measure appears to have been the Tri-State-Rubric, which is so totally governed by the “Publisher’s Criteria” written by Coleman and Pimental – two non-classroom-practitioners. It’s a document that makes claims about the standards that the standards never say.

    My fear is that the schools that MOST need to develop student-centered/visibile/responsive/caring/energetic instruction will be the schools most pressured (or presume pressure) into these basals.

    Thanks for writing about this so well, I’ve been sharing with many who have been asking, “what the heck is going on with NYC DOE?”

    • I’m afraid I haven’t been able to respond till now because I was actually in Jordan with Mary and Katherine Bomer last week, getting a feel for the amazing work you, Mary, Emily & others from TC have been doing there. That work is such a testament to what can happen when you empower teachers, not just hand them a script–and when they, in turn, empower their students to own both the process and the products. As for the Publisher’s Criteria and the rubrics its spawned, I do think schools and teachers need to know that, in addition to being written by two non-classroom teachers, the words “text-dependent questions” don’t appear in the Standards, and while complexity is certainly in there, students are only expected to be reading independently in their grade’s complexity band by the end of the year, per reading standard 10. These programs throw students into the deep end of the pool right from day one and they forces them to use the program’s questions as a life vest just to stay afloat–none of which necessarily builds resilience, ability or independence. And their highly scripted nature denies the very thing a program can’t do but a teacher can: listen to students and make a response that’s based on what you’ve heard. And until we, as a city, start valuing the power of responsive teaching, we risk having teachers and schools cling to programs like life preservers as well.

  12. “How a teacher who’s not encouraged to think critically and independently can possibly support students to do so is completely beyond me.” What a powerful statement. As the educational pendulum swings back to this state of standardization (and those of us in education for more than ten years know that it will swing back), I feel that as teachers enter the classroom each day, we are moving towards running a student-educational assembly line. This is so very ironic to me because, and I will use my own children’s teachers as examples, the teachers that I would consider as poor and inadequate are those that our new standardized system will be producing. This again asks, “What are the drivers?”

    I admit that I too was eagar to have the CCSS implemented, especially as a parent whose family has moved across several states. To leave one state and enter another that consistently does not disrupt my child’s education seemed ideal. However, to put it simply, children differ and teachers differ. One size does not fit all. I teach my middle school students that before they begin writing or presenting, they need to know their audience. No system knows their audience (students) like a teacher does.

    • I was away all last week with only spotty email access and just realized that I should have started with the earliest comments, not the most recent! But just a quick response to a thoughtful comment. This student-educational assembly line is precisely what Ken Robinson in his marvelous Ted Talks cautions us against. We need creativity and creative thinkers, not conformity and standard thinkers. But here’s hoping that the pendulum will swing back again soon as more and more of us are talking out about the dangers of this path.

  13. Yes, heartsick. Hoping to get through these last few years of my career without losing my teaching integrity. Glad to be in a state other than NY and in a district that strongly eschews programs.

    • Just remember how very lucky you are, Mary Lee, to be in a district that values the integrity and wisdom of teachers. Seeing that kept me going for a while, as I’m sure IRA will (and as did the week I just spent in Jordan, which I’m hoping to blog about this week). Let’s promise to laugh and not just moan when I see you in another 10 days.

  14. Pingback: Remembering the Power of Writing & Reading: Reflections from Jordan | To Make a Prairie

  15. My question, how much money would the NYC school system save by not buying any program? Couldn’t they use the money in other ways: what kind of classroom libraries could they find. There are so many other ways they could save money, rather than buy the program in bulk. Teaching is about tweaking: again and again!

    In looking at some of their deep questions: from that passage about To Begin, I would think that feminism might mean girls wearing pants, or dressing up as boys. I don’t think feminist would appreciate that definition.

    • One can only imagine, Kaylynn, the actually books New York City could have bought with the money they’ll spend on these programs. It could also have been used to finance more time for teachers to really grapple with what responsive instruction that leads to the Standards–and true independence–could look like. And my partner David also imagined third graders would think that feminism means wearing pants, which is not an illogical conclusion for third graders to come up with. And that means from the get-go, they’ll be told that they’re wrong.

  16. Pingback: The Reader and the Task: More Questions about Packaged Programs | To Make a Prairie

  17. I am overcome with sadness. I am a product of the NYC public school system of the 70’s and 80’s. Grateful to have gotten such a well-rounded education back then, I became a teacher in order to give. Let me tell you, I’m giving back, alright. We are ALL giving back too much and getting nothing in return. I look at my younger peers and realize that they are not growing professionally. This RG program will become the stagnation of the young educator’s mind.

    • You speak to what’s so scary–and tragic–about the path we’re going down. We cannot afford to lose a generation of both children and teachers who are made dumb by these packaged programs. Just know that there are still some schools out there that are trying to push back, though the state’s new teacher-effectiveness regimen might be the undoing of that as what they’re asking teachers to do–3-5 page lessons plans for every subject every day–seems virtually impossible and so regrettable. It’s accountability run mad.

  18. Thank you for this insightful post. As a 25-year veteran teacher of the NYC public school system, I look back and compare what it was like back then and with today. The reckless accountability of educators disheartens me. I believe everyone should be held accountable, including the parents who don’t support their children’s education.

  19. Pingback: On Shortcuts, Quick Fixes and Why They Often Don’t Work | To Make a Prairie

  20. I’m one of those teachers mentioned above-worn down by the “what is seeming a ‘no-win’ situation” with the implementation of the Common core. My NY District (outside of NYC) has elected to create its own curriculum based on nothing more than the whim of a few teachers (we do get input, but that’s another story) and the obviously inappropriate Lexile levels.

    After teaching this new curriculum for one year I was actually looking at Scholastic’s Code X program as one that seems to offer promise. It seems to have some high interest reading, and can be adapted to my style and enhanced by each teacher. Is this wrong? Have I given up? I just had the most boring year with our new revamped curriculum for the common core. If the teacher is bored with the reading material, imagine how the students must feel. I want to be excited to teach again. . . to promote creativity and debate; how can I do that teaching novels that someone else chose for me?

    At least these programs are varied and somewhat more interesting than what I’ve been told to do.

    • Minus some selections that don’t seem grade appropriate to me (see an example in my The Reader & the Task post), I too think the text selection from Codex is really interesting. And especially if you can use the resources without being bound to the script–and you’re excited about the texts, which is crucial–I’d say go. But perhaps more importantly, forgive yourself. It seems to me that you’re not giving up, you’re searching for a way to renew and reconnect to your teaching heart, without which nothing you teach will have much meaning. And . . . if you do decide to try out Codex, I’d be really interested to hear how it goes.

  21. I am sad to say that I have been agonizing over the ReadyGen curriculum for this upcoming year. Getting ready and planning for this new school year has been very depressing and daunting. My love of teaching is lost. What happened to art projects and socialization in the kinder classroom? To broaden a child’s vocabulary and give them a more complex text to read is important. However, shouldn’t the foundation be solid and age appropriate in order to build upon?

    • Oh, my heart goes out to you! And of course, you’re right. The foundation should be built on a child’s developments strengths. I fear we’re all specimens in an experiment that seems almost doomed to fail. I welcome the failure of packaged programs that ignore or deny teachers’ professional judgement, but I do worry about how many casualties there might be before that happens, with good teachers leaving the profession and students feeling stigmatized by a lack of success with developmentally inappropriate instruction. My hope is that there will be time in your classroom when you can do what you can to bring some joy and creativity in your room. Good luck! And know you’re not alone!

  22. Pingback: Some Thoughts on March Madness (and I Don’t Mean Basketball) | To Make a Prairie

  23. Pingback: Weighing In on Balanced Literacy | To Make a Prairie

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