Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scripted Lessons: We Must Standardize and Align!

One of the reasons why I write this blog is to inform people about what's really going on in our public schools. I am a former Allentown School District art teacher. I held a contracted teaching position for seven years, but I left my job in 2001 to be a stay at home mom. I am currently teaching art classes part time at a private art school, and subbing day to day in area public schools. There are no full time jobs for public school art teachers right now, so my chances of securing a job look kinda grim. Many art teachers have been laid off due to budget cuts. Because I want to teach (that's what I know how to do and it's an important job), I have no choice but to sub. I like urban kids, and I have experience working with the neediest of kids. I believe these kids deserve a high quality art education, just like the private school kids. My certification is in art, but I have been subbing for mostly elementary ed classrooms, learning support, ESOL, autistic, life skills, special ed, and kindergarten. It is challenging, but it has been eye-opening because I get to see what's going on across the district. What frightens me the most is the standardized and scripted curriculum that teachers now must follow. It's Orwellian and creepy.

When I left teaching in 2001, when NCLB started, teachers were still able to be creative and they had the freedom to design their own lessons. I have a lot of experience working with classroom teachers on interdisciplinary lessons-- adding value and meaning to learning by teaching across the curriculum and making connections to all subjects studied. And I have experience writing developmentally appropriate lessons. But things are much different now. Teachers must follow scripted lesson plans from manuals. These lessons are "aligned" (our Zuperintendent's favorite word) with standards mandated by bureaucrats. The standards are aligned to the PSSA test. No matter how the administrators frame it for maximum turd polishing effect, it's still teaching to the test. The current standards movement focuses on uniformity instead of quality in order to ensure teaching consistency across each grade level. I really can't stand the prepackaged reading program. It's insulting to teachers and students. It's boring, mediocre, and does not connect to the urban child's life. The administrators want to micro-manage every aspect of education, as if a learning environment is a business.

Speaking of micro-management, the scripted teacher's manual directs the teacher step by step on what to say to students, when to say it, where to point, how to teach, as if teachers are morons who can't make decisions. I get a headache just looking at the pages and trying to follow the over-complicated script, when I should be focusing on looking at the kids. And those kids are usually distracted by runny noses, hunger, belts or shoelaces that need to be done, clothing that is too hot, other students, headaches and toothaches, questions, comments about stuff they like, playing with little pieces of tape or posted notes or pencils or markers or whiteboards or anything they can grab to keep themselves entertained. They seem to always need to sharpen pencils, get a drink, get a tissue, use the bathroom, or go to the nurse as an escape. They are fidgety, unfocused, disinterested, and bored. And I think I would be too if I were a kid. We had playtime, pretend time, dress up, show and tell, and drama when I was in kindergarten. Now kids must learn how to read, write, and take tests at age five, even if they are not developmentally ready.

Most kids are curious, sweet, and they want to learn, but the scripted lessons do not seem appropriate for all kids. And I'm not a robot, I'm a teacher. I know what to say to my students because I interact with children on a daily basis, and because I am an educated, trained, and seasoned professional. In addition to the boring lessons, there are piles and piles of scripted worksheets for students to complete. There was a time when teachers made their own worksheets. The scripted lessons include monosyllabic stories like "arf the shark" that are really dumb and boring (a shark that barks like a dog). Why not ask the kids to come up with their own characters using similar sounding words? Or to put on a play (young children love to pretend). Almost forgot, experimentation is verboten. Ditto fun. Ditto creativity. Experimentation cannot be neatly "aligned" or measured to create data that makes the bureaucrats look good on paper. And forget about those "teachable moments." With timed and scripted lessons, there is no time for impromptu conversation or questions that may be out of sync.

Scripted instruction, standards aligned systems, value added assessments, increased testing, rigor (what does this mean?), concentric circles, teacher accountability, focus on college readiness, and other education "reform" mumbo jumbo will not improve learning. If the bogus state test scores improve, it will be the result of endless hours of scripted instruction, drilling, pre-testing, and teaching to the test. This is not an indicator of real learning. Where is the value in regurgitating meaningless facts on a bubble test? But higher test scores make the bureaucrats look like their methods are working. Scary stuff.

The scripted and standardized method of teaching contradicts everything I learned about teaching and meeting the needs of all students. It goes against my principles and values. As a sub, I must follow the script (I try to make it fun) but I believe it is wrong to impose these lousy conditions on children as young as five years old. And it's wrong to impose these dreadful work conditions on talented and effective teachers. What about personal teaching style? How you teach is just as important as what you teach. Urban students need to be able to make connections to their lives and the real world where things are not always so "aligned." Shit happens. Children are not data points. Each child is unique, with a unique learning style. They need to be allowed to be children. In my next post I will present an example of teaching across the curriculum through art. An art lesson is a lesson in life. And it's what kids need in order to find meaning in their own lives, and when that happens, that's when they'll want to stay in school and graduate.

Speaking of "alignment," it really bugs me to read news that our clueless Zchool board has uniformly approved the hiring of another over paid administrator. This is happening while 249 teaching positions are being eliminated. Joyce Marin, the former Allentown Community and Economic Development Director who resigned and moved to Spain has apparently returned, and there was a position created just for her. Joyce has an MBA in Finance, not Education. But she will be in charge of "aligning" after school arts activities, and other enrichment programs for ASD students. That's right, we must be all "aligned" with school and community! We must keep it all symmetrical, because that's how a business is run! So, as highly qualified arts educators who have formed bonds with ASD students lose their jobs, Ms. Marin will be starting her new job coordinating after school art programs for kids, at more than double the salary of a teacher. Joyce may be effective in her work with community groups, but education is a specialized field. Someone with a background in education and specifically working with urban kids should have gotten that position. But wait, is the position even needed? Teachers know how to run after school programs. This aligned corporatization of public education will fail, at the expense of our children. Our elected leaders are clueless. And funding for education should be the last thing to be cut from any state's budget.


Mrs. Dottie said...

Diane Ravitch says:

"But if we learned anything from Cathie Black's experience, it is that education is not interchangeable with business. Education is not a business. It is supposed to provide good education to all children, not to segment its market and compete with others in the marketplace. It operates on the principle of equality of educational opportunity, not a race to see who can sell the most or win the biggest market share and beat out the others."

Mrs. Dottie said...

In PA, Gov. Corbett has proposed legislation that would allow people with business degrees to become superintendents. There is a movement to de-professionalize the field of education. Bloomberg is doing this in NYC and it has been a debacle. Arne Duncan has never taught, does not have a background in ed. As a teacher I would not be qualified to advise a hedge fund manager, yet the CEOs and billionaires like Bill Gates are calling the shots in education. It's a sham. Obama is clueless. But it's all about money and the ruling class.