Bill Gates' grant corrupts curriculum

"..never in my career have I had so little control over what I do in my classroom…I worry about young teachers who will just accept the lockstep program and never learn to teach, to make lesson plans of their own."

by an anonymous teacher who is in Denver.

We are one of the four Denver schools that received the generous three-year grant from Bill Gates. This is yet another fix the district has attempted within six years. How can "they" be so blind? College board is a BUSINESS; it makes money!

Bill Gates needs a tax shelter; he's not an educator. We have had this program inflicted on all of our English classes. It's not valid! The teacher's manual is obtuse/vague/convoluted much of the time. The assessments are watered down 'projects' of past years. Most of us have resigned ourselves to an easy year: what the hell…show up, turn the page, and go home.

Monkeys can use this, but it is an insult to trained highly educated professionals who unfortunately are called teachers.

by Ellen Brosnahan

My district is abandoning our "homegrown" curriculum, as per the orders of our new superintendent, who wants a purchased program.

So, after the high school adopted College Board's Springboard program a rigorous and coherent plan… delivering essential knowledge , our curriculum head ordered Springboard for grades 6-8 as well, without consulting any of us who actually teach middle school.

Anyway, there was training in June, which I did not attend. The training did not go well. Lots of my colleagues asked too many questions, and on the second day our head of curriculum had to come and and tell everyone to play nice. Teachers were told not to bombard the trainers with questions and to "be positive."

Over the past several months, I feel like I've gone through the stages of grieving for our "homegrown" curriculum, a genre-study model that incorporates lots of reading, analyzing literature, good writing instruction, and plenty of teacher and student choices. I went to the August training, two weeks ago.

The Springboard trainer has "drunk the College Board Koolaid," as my husband would say. We began with a College Board Power Point presentation touting the program. CB's philosophy is to get students to be successful in high school AP courses and in college. And guess who sells the AP tests??!! It's all about "getting them ready". The program is driven by what KSUS (Knowledge and Skills for University Success standards developed by the Association of American Universities. They were developed and endorsed over a three-year period by a consortium of 28 AAU universities and have subsequently been adopted by the College Board as a foundational element in the new SAT, PSAT, and AP exams.) says students need to be successful in college. What about what kids need in sixth grade? Or what about kids not going to college?

Springboard claims to be rigorous, and I guess it's better than some of the dreadful scripted stuff teachers in some districts have been forced to use. But as far as my colleagues and I are concerned, it is not as "rigorous" as what we are already doing. There is almost no student choice anywhere in the lessons. In our district's attempt for uniformity from one classroom to the next, we are in danger of becoming uniformly mediocre. The program also has some annoying flaws, like lumping cognitive reading strategies with teaching activities like KWL and calling them ALL reading strategies.

There are two embedded assessments in each unit, five or six units a year, that we are going to be required to do. Some of these are just plain dumb. There are also rubrics, terribly written. And what would a program be without diagnostic tests on line for "skills". Writing is assigned, not taught, and is cookbook style. "In your first paragraph, write… In your second paragraph, write… . ."

This will not be an easy year for me. I will be retiring in June 2007, and never in my career have I had so little control over what I do in my classroom. I am confident I can continue to do what is best for kids and follow the district's expectations as well, and I will hold on to SSR and good writing instruction. I am not going quietly either. But I worry about young teachers who will just accept the lockstep program and never learn to teach, to make lesson plans of their own.

I want kids to love reading and writing, a culture we currently have in my district. I hope this will not be one of the casualties of our new, uniform program. (And incidentally, 96% of our eighth graders met or exceeded state reading standards this year, up from 93% last year and 91% the year before.)

With all of the atrocities I read about each day on your web page [susan], I shouldn't be whining. I know that I am far more fortunate than many of my colleagues across the country. I have had the luxury of teaching in an almost ideal climate for years, but the tentacles of NCLB reach all of us. Data is the name of the game everywhere!

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