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Norwalk Board of Ed, teachers spar over all-important curriculum choice

Norwalk BOE curriculum committee 015-20130711
Norwalk Public Schools Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila talks last week about the scoring system used to evaluate possible curricula. “This is a costly thing for all districts and I think that’s why some states are pulling out (of Common Core State Standards),” she said. “I think Norwalk is smart in that we are staying the course because we don’t want our kids to do well enough, we want them to do excellent.”

Updated, 10:41 a.m., links to studies and an attachment added

NORWALK, Conn. – A drawing of a Mexican with a mustache was a bit much for Migdalia Rivas last week, but a description of a duel really sent the Norwalk Board of Education member over the edge.

“I can picture two children dueling and then they think they’re going to survive,” Rivas said, of the potential impact of a story in a book being considered for Norwalk’s youngest school children.

Rivas was going back and forth with BOE member Sue Haynie and Norwalk Public Schools Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila over the Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum, one of six possible curricula currently being considered as an investment in Norwalk’s students. While Haynie and other board members seem to prefer CKLA, a panel of teachers and administrators has panned it – a source of tension that brought about 50 people to a Thursday meeting of the BOE Curriculum Committee in a show of support.

Many of them were teachers.

“They get the feeling that the board is not going to listen to them and follow their advice,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion said.

A committee of teachers and school administrators, including one elementary school teacher from each school, spent six full days over the past school year studying the options for a K-5 English Language curriculum, a necessary component of the switch to Common Core State Standards, Mellion said. They favor Reading Street, a Pearson product, and consider Journeys by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt a close second.

“It appears that board members since early 2012 prefer a particular ‘ELA’ but they do not have any background in it,” Mellion said, casting aspersions on the ability of non-educators to make a decision in the matter.

“It’s like watching brain surgery at Norwalk Hospital and then trying to do brain surgery,” he said.

Mellion also said time is of the essence – the teachers need the new curricula in place by the beginning of the next school year, but preferably, they need the materials by their professional day in August so they can be trained in how to use them.

Norwalk BOE curriculum committee 017-20130711
Teachers and concerned citizens attend the Norwalk Board of Education Curriculum Committee meeting last week.

English Language Arts is the lynchpin, the cornerstone for the entire educational system, he said, likening it to the keys to the kingdom. Not having it in place is setting the kids up for a “deficit before you get started,” he said,

“Waiting hurts,” he said. “It hurts children and it hurts teachers to do the work. This is not a political thing, it’s about doing the very best we can for the students.”

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons agreed with parts of that but not others.

“The board certainly values the input of our teachers,” he said in an email. “We adopted the GoMath curriculum they recommended (after evaluating it ourselves), and likewise are adopting the Prentice Hall English curriculum for grades 6-12.”

But state law leaves the decision in the hands of the Board of Ed, he said.

“We have an obligation to independently review recommendations made to us on curricula (just as we do on budgets, personnel decisions, policies, etc.),” he continued. “People sometimes equate ‘listening to them’ as being the equivalent of ‘doing what they say’; but these do not necessarily follow (unless the board is expected to simply mindlessly rubber stamp whatever teachers or administrators propose – in which case, why have a board?).”

The elementary school English Language curricula is the most important, he agreed, as it lays the groundwork for everything else.

“As much as we’d like to stay ahead of schedule and get it in place this fall, too, it is simply too important to rush,” he said.

Davila spent about an hour going over the complicated differences in the six options last week before board members went into an executive session to discuss the economic differences in the programs.

She said the committee had first designed a rubric to evaluate the programs, taking into account the unique needs of Norwalk’s diverse school district. What worked well in one district would not work in Norwalk, she said.

Samples of the various curricula were taken to all the schools to get feedback from teachers, she said.

Pearson has recently promised unending professional support with its Reading Journeys, she said. That meant up to four two-day visits to each school over the course of a school year, while other programs would expect teachers to travel to them, and miss instructional time with their students.

The program was designed as a “staircase of literacy,” she said, with an “explicit phonics sequence.”

She said the Core Knowledge curricula had been favored by former Superintendent Susan Marks, but she felt it had been discredited in the United Kingdom.

One of her biggest concerns was that “the synthetic phonics are taken to an extreme that kids are kept away from the writing process to a good degree of time into the middle or end of first grade,” she said. “Kids are kept away from hands-on books, actually even seeing print for a long time … The idea is not to be distracted from focusing on words.”

Journeys by Houghton Mifflin was the committee’s second choice, but she had doubts, partly because it comes with less professional development and partly because the company has gone bankrupt and has reorganized.

She let the cat out of the bag and mentioned the pricing – the company had said $1.5-$1.7 million, but last week dropped it to about $580,000.

Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona told her to save that for the executive session.

A curriculum will cost more than $1 million, Haynie said in an email. She said the decision is second in importance only to the selection of a superintendent.

Davila said Reading Wonders, which scored third on the list, was “too fledgling, too new, too untried.”

“Could we make do with Reading Wonders? Yes we could,” she said. “But we’ve been making do for a long time and it’s almost turning the do into a don’t.”

The CKLA curricula had only been shown to committee members in pieces, she said; no one had seen all the books.

Board of Education member Migdalia Rivas talks at last week’s Curriculum Committee meeting about the dangers of teaching young children stereotypes. Her comment about listening to teachers drew applause.

 

What she did see concerned her, as she felt the cultural insensitivities in drawings of “slanty-eyed Asians” and African American women with big hips.

Haynie said the CKLA social studies curriculum has been chosen for the South Norwalk Collegiate Academy, which hasn’t gotten its charter yet, and is being used in Newark, N.J.

“I think the inclusiveness of the curriculum speaks for itself,” she said.

A teacher questioned why Haynie had gone to two demonstrations of CKLA and not to any of the others. Haynie said she had only been to one demonstration.

“I would have liked to go to all of them,” she said. “I do as much as I can. I missed them. It wasn’t because I didn’t care.”

She would like to do site visits, she said.

Another teacher asked why the board had sought their input if they weren’t going to listen to it.

Lyons referred to the 10-inch stack of papers in front of him.

“Who said we’re not listening?” he asked. “I’ve been listening all night. We’ve got a stack this thick to read and we’ve got to look at books. We have a capital budget that we have to stay inside of.”

Board members came out of their executive decision and approved the Pearson curriculum for grades six to 12.  Lyons said it would have been approved earlier but the money hadn’t been there to buy it. There was no action taken on the K-5 curriculum.

On Sunday, Lyons explained more in an email.

“As the board member who worked most closely with the mayor, Fred Wilms and Doug Hempstead to get us the $2.1 million in the capital budget (without which funding this conversation would be pointless), I take second place to no one when it comes to the importance of getting the Common Core curricula in place,” he said. “We have implemented K-5 math, and will shortly be approving 6-12 English and middle school math.  We are reviewing K-5 English, and added a science instructional specialist in this year’s budget to help with the next CCSS curriculum project after math and English — science.  In short, there is a LOT going on in curricula already; we aren’t exactly sitting on our hands! … Of course, this is up to the board, not just me, but my sense is to move forward with the other curricula, but on this one take a closer look, and have (new superintendent Manuel) Rivera weigh in, before making a decision.”

Correction made, 10:36 a.m., South Norwalk Collegiate Academy.

Scoresheet for possible curricula

New York City Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) Pilot March 2012

CKLA study

CK Social Studies First Grade

Reasons why committee rejects CKLA

Onlookers pack a City Hall conference room last week for the Norwalk Board of Education Curriculum Committee meeting. “I feel a number of teachers and concerned taxpayers came out tonight to voice their quiet support in the hard work of the committee that worked very hard to pick what they felt was an appropriate reading program that will help Norwalk children to have success with the Common Core,” said Naramake Elementary School teacher Colleen Rumsey (not pictured.) “I’m really hoping that one of the first two choices is selected.”

 

Comments

54 responses to “Norwalk Board of Ed, teachers spar over all-important curriculum choice”

  1. To say that the presentation to the Committee was heavily biased against Core Knowledge would be an understatement. Does it make any sense that the New York State Department of Education says that CKLA (along with two other programs, NOT including the Pearson program that was recommended to the Committee) “represent the highest-quality Common Core-aligned curriculum materials currently available. They include brand new curriculum materials and materials that are being updated to fully reflect the shifts required by the Common Core standards” if CKLA was even REMOTELY as bad as the presentation to the Committee says it is? Would Cory Booker’s Newark schools (with their $100 million gift from Facebook) be adopting the CKLA curriculum in a 90% minority school system if it was really “culturally insensitive”? This is why the Committee needs to look into this more and get input from Dr. Rivera; what we were presented with on CKLA was so one-sided that it unfortunately brings into question the objectivity of the whole analysis.

  2. marjoriem

    Let’s get input from Dr. Rivera? Why bother? His merit pay is based on how well he pleases the Board of Education. Do we really expect him to buck you?

  3. M Allen

    I think his potential merit pay will be based on results, which are the only thing that should please the BOE. And yes, I would hope the Supt. would buck the board if he thought it was the appropriate course of action. As opposed to those who simply buck the board because they play on a side of the field that benefits more from fighting the board than from reaching comon ground.

  4. Sara Sikes

    Mike,
    Why is the BOE going into Executive Session to discuss cost of curriculum programs…am I missing something here? It looks like a lot of parents came out for discussion so why would you not include them in it?

  5. Suzanne

    I reviewed this article and accompanying material carefully – I am not an educator though my father was a professor and more than one sibling has taught in classrooms from Elementary School to Graduate level courses at Universities throughout the country.

    I reviewed the curriculum at the Columbia Teacher’s College (sic) to see what educators are learning in order to be a trained teacher in an elementary school classroom. This popped out in their mission statement:

    “Our stance is that there is no single truth in education but there are many realities. Each of us has the right to choose our own (educated) platform, but we who are teacher educators have the obligation to introduce our students to the spectrum of alternatives and help them to look at the important differences among approaches. Because there is no one clearly superior way to engage in educating children, teachers must constantly set hypotheses and test them searching for the best way to teach each individual child and group of children.”

    In other words, as expected, teachers are taught how to approach curriculum based on the children they are teaching and not by a monetized approach evaluated by a committee to then tell the teachers how best to uniformly teach their children.

    At least that what seems to be going on here in Norwalk. All of the angst and political infighting, who gets to decide what, who gets to spend what where, seems to be an imposed process on a trained individual who has been taught to meet certain criteria for their students but not told how to get there – that is why they were trained to be teachers in the first place. The instructor has been taught, went to school for a long time to get a degree, presumably was evaluated after long hours of student teaching to see if the teacher could teach the students to a certain criteria (and notice I am purposely NOT writing “curriculum”) and meet educational outcomes, educational goals.

    In reference to this, the last report included in this article “Reasons why committee rejects CKLA” is like reading an exercise in political correctness with blinders on. It assumes children do not know the difference between “make believe”, “imagination” and what is real. It assumes that an instructor could not take an historical illustration and put it in context to the history the student is being taught. My, what an underestimation of children and teachers! If the Committee doesn’t like how the ethnicity of people are represented, doesn’t this become an opportunity to teach the different realities of people, their dress, how they represent themselves or not? To take these illustrations at face value as a reason to throw out an entire curriculum is laughable. It means the evaluators are too close to their topic (Really? Kids imitating duels in the playground? To suppress this is just silly. Wasn’t any committee participant EVER a child playing hide and go seek, cowboys and Indians, imitative military maneuvers? The realities of this can be taught, just like the concept of “war games”, often represented in television and video games as NOT real.)

    When all is said and done, it seems like nothing is left to the teacher to teach, just the rote specifications as required by a Committee. Not very imaginative. And the process seems self-perpetuating of long hours, arguments and dissidence that, I hope, never, ever gets to the classroom.

    Are teachers so bad in Norwalk that they cannot be trusted to meet educational goals without rote curricula? According to Columbia, the diverse classroom, ethnically and socio-economically, is what is to be expected in an urban school. Are Norwalk teachers not taught about this? I am sure that is not true!

  6. David

    Mike, good questions about CKLA in other school districts (Newark, for example) and perhaps we can find out “why”, indeed. Although, to be fair, Newark doesn’t have a great history of strong governance, even with all the great work Mr. Booker has done there to change things.

    Getting past the whole “cultural sensitivity” argument and looking at the score sheet, CKLA just doesn’t score well at all, across the board. I don’t think the “cultural” part even needs to be broached, given the evaluation.

    As a parent I would have a hard time accepting a curriculum that was evaluated by my kids teachers and scored out so poorly. I mean, it’s not even close.

    Is there some other information the board can give about CKLA to justify it being the preferred choice? Other than “[town/city] uses it”?

  7. David

    I think it needs to be pointed out that this is the kind of “argument” we need to see more of – how to make our schools better, how to make our kids education better. Not the “zero sum, we win, you lose” type of acrimony that often goes on.

    Mike, you’ve done a lot to change the tone of discussion in Norwalk recently, with help from others, it should be noted.

    This is not an easy decision to make – we’re deciding on the education standards for most of a generation to come. Norwalk’s long term economic viability is central to the education levels our kids come out of school with. This is not a trivial decision.

    Thanks.

  8. Those that can’t do

    Common Core is just another No Child Left Behind. Same dog. Different fleas. Another excuse to fleece taxpayers by applying more useless theories from people who never held a real job making real things that real people ever use.
    In 10 more years from now after we get the same results (hopefully not worse), they will rebrand it as some other flavor. Then they will explain how taxpayers are for not wanting to take out third mortgages to fund it and pension plans that no other citizen is entitled to.
    The answer is so simple and no one will accept the fact that the education monopoly imposed by state law is directly responsible for our academic failures, budget deficits, and deterioriating quality of life as those who have to foot the bill have to sacrifice more family time that used to be geared towards raising children and making sure they did their homework. The state pretends it can do this even though it has failed miserably for decades and they only thing they come up with is new tricks like common core and of course the requisite pension funding that is their real goal.

  9. Bill Dunne

    Dear “Those who can’t do”: I share your view of the sorry state of public education in America. For quite a while I was as skeptical as you are about this newfangled thing called Common Core Curriculum. I still think the roll-out of CCC is highly susceptible to sabotage by The Blob (the public education establishment). However, I have changed my mind about the inherent value of CCC. You might do the same if you read E.D. Hirsch’s “The Schools We Need — and Why We Don’t Have Them.” Hirsch is a liberal Democrat, but he’s the devil incarnate to The Blob because he understands that 100 years of progressive education claptrap has been an epic disaster. He explains why in his book, and offers CCC as a prescription. I believe it deserves a chance to show what it can do.

  10. Bill Dunne

    Suzanne… For about 90 years the Columbia Teachers College has been the epicenter of most of the thoroughly discredited theories that have saddled several generations of Americans with sub-par education results. So I’m not sure I would put much stock in the CTC mission statement.

  11. Those that can’t do

    @BillDunne. I can accept your premise and do hold out hope. But you are correct the status quo will try to undermine this at every stage they can just like NCLB until it resembles nothing but more than unfunded mandates. Nothing will be resolved with local education until Hartford is eradicated of useless academic thought leaders who pretend to serve us well, but in reality only serve to fund public worker’s pension funds. They do this in turn for campaign contributions to perpetuate their own self existence. We need to expose them.

  12. M Allen

    I agree, give it a chance. Obviously what we have isn’t working. Obviously more money isn’t the answer because no matter what we throw at it, the fact is money has never proven to fix anthing with regard to education. It all begins at home and that is an area that society is impotent to change.

    My personal belief and opinion, which is only based on my own experiences, is that it all comes down to accountability. And the fact that nobody truly has any. Students don’t really have any. They will get passed through the system without ever proving they’ve mastered anything. Parents have no accountability. They make take responsibility in helping their children, but ultimately they aren’t held accountable if their children don’t learn. Teachers have some accountability, but not enough to truly call it that. Its not really thir fault though. God bless the teachers as they are truly working in a siuation that can hardly be called a controlled environment. Administrators, like teachers, can only do so much. Great ideas and great administration only goes so far. it all begins at hoe and if you can’t control for that, then all bets are off down the line.

    The fact is we cannot and will not do what is needed to compel kids to learn. And that is stop advancing them until they exhibit a mastery of the core fundamentals. Social stigmas be damned. Stop pretending its OK to move a kid forward when we know that if he/she doesn’t have the basics it will only be that much harder for them to learn at the next level.

  13. Bill Dunne

    Look at the caption under the photo of Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila. (I have a hunch that “instructional specialist” means she’s a teacher.) She is quoted as saying, “I think Norwalk is smart in that we are staying the course because we don’t want our kids to do well enough, we want them to do excellent.” We want them to do excellent? If this is the “instructional specialist” who is judging the quality of proposed new English instruction material for our children, I hope that that was just a typo.

    1. @Bill Dunne
      Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila said it hasn’t been that long since she was a teacher. She isn’t one now. Her Linked In profile lists her as K-12 English language arts instructional specialist (curriculum director) at Norwalk Public Schools.

  14. Those that can’t do

    @BillDunne. I’m not going to pick on poor grammar in the context of a meeting or blog entry. We’re all guilty of it to some degree or another. But, while you are on the topic of Instructional specialists, curriculum specialists, etc…….how many $100s of millions has the Norwalk taxpayer paid over the years for these positions that don’t get anything done?
    Back to Suzanne’s and others points about us paying our teachers very well. Why not cut out all this crap and get it back to the teachers to do what is right. Have some standardized tests and evaluation criteria, weed out the bad ones, make kids who need to stay back, and move on.

  15. Bruce Kimmel

    To really understand what the Common Core is all about and how literacy instruction is rapidly changing in the U.S., read Hirsch’s “The Knowledge Deficit,” particularly those sections that deal with recent developments in cognitive psychology that cast language acquisition and literacy in an entirely different light. Hirsch has long be identified as the leading voice for a core knowledge type of curriculum. Adoption of such a curriculum would put us on the same page, curriculum wise, as a fair number of other countries that generally outscore U.S. students on international tests.

  16. Suzanne

    Mr. Dunne, Your statement re: the CTC has no supportive facts so it is hard to believe that a place that has been touted as highly effective in their instruction be summarily dismissed. Likewise, the quote has nothing to do with an institutional rating and everything to do with allowing teachers to teach. Set educational goals and criteria to which teachers, students and parents must be held accountable. If Mr. Hirsch has something to say about how a child learns and there is improvement in teacher training on this basis, so much the better. But, selecting a curriculum by committee then thrusting said curriculum down a teacher’s throat in order to teach a classroom that may or may not be receptive to such information is leaving the skills and knowledge of the teacher’s ability to teach out of the picture. Coursera and Khan Academy manage to teach basic skills very well and the way Norwalk approaches learning and education convinces me that any possible children I would have would be home-schooled. Kids seem to be part of a political ping pong ball game with the high scores the source of collective anxiety for parents and anyone else who pays taxes. I know there are good intentions but this process seems stuck in some very bad habits that do not seem to have anything to do with the students doing “excellent.”

  17. M Allen

    Bruce: While adoption of such a curriculum would put us on the same page as other countries that generally outscore the U.S., what if any are the other differences in these countries? Is it just the curriculum? Are there any issues with the makeup of the student body? It would seem much easier to gear a curriculum to students in Sweden then lets say, Chicago, L.A. or Norwalk. How are the teachers, students and parents held accountable in these other countries? I’m just wondering because it seems like the issue of education is a multi-faceted one and that no single piece, including money, is the silver bullet.

  18. Bill Dunne

    Suzanne… Hirsch gives chapter and verse on the CTC’s eminent role in creating the template for teachers’ colleges, where process is emphasized at the expense of knowing the subject matter that one is teaching. I would do a poor job of elaborating on that point, so I would only refer you to his book, “The Schools We Need.” Apart from that, I fully share your frustration with the system in place now.

    Those Who Can’t Do: Normally I never pick on anyone’s offhand grammar mistakes, as I make plenty of them myself, and it’s also in poor taste. In a moment of weakness I couldn’t resist, given the individual’s prominent role in the trashing of the English instructional curriculum. I confess my sin, and offer a mea culpa. Perhaps I can be forgiven.

  19. Suzanne

    Mr. Dunne, You have my full sympathy, no “mea culpa” necessary. There is something about this type of forum: while providing the freedom to be completely frank and truthful about one’s views, it can also lead, for me anyway, to what I call “snarky” behavior, not meant to be terribly rude but, somehow, harsher than intended to make a point. I, too, must watch myself and have been known to write in a way of which I am not proud.

  20. Bruce LeVine Mellion

    Newark and New York are not Norwalk. A 98 % score against a 42% score is huge. I attended the ckla second presentation, the only company given two shots and it was very weak for Norwalk students when all aspects were objectively looked at.

  21. Committee Member

    While I appreciate the comments made, much of the backstory has been left out. Ms. Davila has been working her tail off in order to get Norwalk a new program that will address all of our city’s specific issues: a Spanish component for Silvermine’s Mano-a-Mano program, additional supplemental resources for our students that receive Special Education services, professional development at all teachers’ disposal IN actual schools – not in a conference room in City Hall far far away from our students, etc. Bashing her is a cheap shot, especially when you don’t know what her job entails.

    Secondly, would you trust someone off the street to diagnose and treat you for Cancer? Would you like a high school graduate without any specialized training to be your defense attorney if you are being tried for murder? Would it be a good idea to let someone that has never held a hammer be commissioned to build a mansion? No…the answers to all these questions are no. Then tell me, if it’s not ok for people without specialized training and degrees to work in the above positions, why is it ok for people that aren’t educators, with advanced degrees in curriculum and teaching, that have never taught students of any age to be the ones to choose the program they see fit? No, they’re not rubber stamps, but this Board of Education should really listen to the professionals in making this decision. After all, the professionals have the knowledge, experience, and specializations to make these decisions.

    A Committee Member

  22. Bill Dunne

    Bruce… The people who did the scoring were your union members, is that correct?

  23. M Allen

    Committee Member – you are absolutely correct that none of us would want any of those you listed to handle the jobs you mentioned. Which is why we hire professionals who are accountable for the actions and decisions they make. Meaning: they can actually, legally be held to account.

    In some cases we hire professionals to provide information so others can make informed decisions. This is how government works. The only people here with actual accountability are the members of BOE. They are ultimately accountable to the voters. Teachers have a much less strenuous degree of accountability. This needs to be a collaborative effort, but I am concerned that true collaboration is all but impossible. There are too many competing interests at work and it is simply too easy to undermine the entire initiative if one group or another doesn’t get their way. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  24. Hobbes.the.Calvinist

    What a golden opportunity to rebuild teacher-BOE cooperation that has been blundered.
    At some point, Republican insider Mike Lyons needs to explain his original agenda to discuss the curriculum proposals in closed executive session. His move to exclude teachers and parents sent a strong message that Mr. Lyons and his cadre of non-teachers know better than any professional. Politicized paternalism has trumped common sense.

  25. Suzanne

    Wow! “Teachers have a much less strenuous degree of accountability.” Really???? Let’s say you have a young mind, say five or six years old, and you take that mind to a place and say, “Stay here all day.” You have turned that young mind over to a teacher who is accountable not only for their safety but for the child’s ability to discover the intricacies of the world through an education – under and with that teacher. I think that is the highest degree of accountability you can have in this town in addition to medical professionals and their patients. All of that administrative “stuff” that creates the infrastructure for a classroom is important but not as important as the individual standing in front of those impressionable young minds ready to teach them. I would classify that as a high degree of strenuous accountability.

  26. Bill Dunne

    Accountability, in the real world, simply means you can be fired if you do a poor job. How “accountable” can a member in good standing of the NFT be?

  27. MarjorieM

    Bill Dunne, you are so overboard about unions. Yes, teachers are members of unions, but they become teachers because of their love of children. A huge percentage of teachers go way beyond what is expected to help children succeed. How accountable can a member of a union be? Highly accountable to themselves! One doesn’t have to be a churchgoing fanatic to be a good person. 98% of teachers in Norwalk want students to succeed. Are there rotten apples? Here and there. Just like in the world.

  28. Lisa Thomson

    Wait for Dr. Rivera to make the call, since he’ll have to live with it.

  29. Steve Colarossi

    The Norwalk Board of Education does have a valuable role in approving changes to curriculum. However, the role is to evaluate the recommendations of the experts in the field and to either accept or reject their proposal. And, no amount of waiting (whether for the new superintendent, Superman or Godot) will change the analysis of the curriculum review panel and the insensitivity of some of the literature which the Core Knowledge Foundation includes in their first and second grade reading materials.

    When the professional review committee started their work, there was direct involvement by members of the Curriculum Committee regarding the evaluation process (which included a push for a review of the Core Knowledge Foundation’s English Language Arts program). After the initial round of meetings with the publishers, some members of the Curriculum Committee sent emails to administration officials demanding that the Core Knowledge Foundation be given a second opportunity to present its English Language Arts curriculum and that members of the review panel visit schools where the program was being used. As I wrote in a series of emails to my colleagues on the Board of Education at that time (May of 2013), I took great exception to the pressure that was being exerted on the review panel to give special treatment to the Core Knowledge program.

    Now, if you were on a professional review panel, and you were being subjected to a barrage of emails from Board of Education members directing you to give special consideration to a particular curriculum, and in your professional opinion you did not believe that their choice would work best for Norwalk’s children, you know that you would provide detailed reasons to explain your judgment. The report presented last week by the professional curriculum review panel did provide detailed reasons to explain their rankings of all the programs they studied. The derision which some use to denigrate the work of the administrators and teachers on the professional review panel suggests a political agenda at work by some (but I would not say all) who would support Core Knowledge.

    Truth be told, I happen to believe that teachers tend to be motivated by the best interests of their students. As the husband of a very dedicated teacher, I can speak of her long nights planning lessons, of her buying classroom materials from our personal funds and of the significant time spent after the school day reading professional literature, sharing ideas with peers, and overall, worrying about her students. So, I tend not to believe that the teachers and administrators on the professional review panel were motivated by a particular selfish tendency– sometimes (and I do believe that it is most of the time), education professionals make decisions that are in the best interests of the people they serve.

    The casting of aspersions on panel members (from impugning the judgment of the teachers and administrators, to questioning if they are qualified to assess curriculum), and the attempt by some to somehow conflate union animosity with curriculum selection hinders the ability to have the sort of meaningful dialogue necessary to revitalize English Language Arts instruction to our youngest students. And, as political advantage is sought, a critical decision is delayed, which makes it less and less likely that our youngest students will have the sort of revised curriculum they deserve when they start school in the Fall. Our elementary students deserve to have the best curriculum available to them when they start school– unfortunately, public perseveration over the reasons why Core Knowledge didn’t measure up will consign these children to another year of the “status quo”.

  30. MarjorieM

    Thank you, Steve. When it comes to choosing books to support a curriculum, the teachers separate emotions, union affiliations, etc and look for what is in the best interest of their students. To say otherwise is as insulting as one could get to teachers who are true professionals. Unfortunately, Steve, your choice of superintendent will side with the Board. That’s why he was brought in. That’s why Lisa Thomson is saying to wait for his decision. Another superintendent who will listen to Red Apples. I didn’t want to judge him before he arrived, but Lisa Thomson’s comment revealed all.

  31. M Allen

    Wow! “Teachers have a much less strenuous degree of accountability.” Really????

    Yes, Suzanne. Accountability. The state of being accountable. I love teachers, I do. We need more good ones. And I rarely if ever lay the woes of our education system (here or elsewhere) at the feet of the teachers themselves. Their unions? Yeah, I’ll hammer those. But please don’t try and make it sound like there is real accountability because then we’ll need to break our Merriam’s big book for a definition of what real accountability is.

  32. MarjorieM

    Norwalk teachers, run for your lives….or perhaps your sanity. It is clear that you are (1) not respected (2) considered babysitters and (3) you are taking orders from a high school graduate. Norwalk’s work environment is nasty for your health.

  33. M Allen

    You’re simply wrong Marjorie. Teachers are (1) highly respected, (2) considered educators, and (3) are employees of a school district, managed by a Superintendent with a Doctorate degree. I sometimes think people miss the last point though. That these are employees and not freelance contractors with the authority to act on their own accord. They should have an incredible amount of input into the curriculum, but at some point, the elected officials and paid administrators are tasked with making the call. Just because teachers may not get all of what they want doesn’t mean they are not respected. Out of all parties involved in the education system, are there any who receive more respect than the teachers themselves? I think not.

  34. MarjorieM

    M Allen, the elected official who is pushing for CKLA is a high school graduate. Do you really feel this person is more qualified than the teachers to make this decision? The administrators? Do you include building principals as well? Central office Language Arts specialist? Who are the administrators who back CKLA? I am listening.

  35. Committee Member

    MAllen,

    I must respectfully disagree. If we are respected educators that were hired by the BOE, why were out educational backgrounds requested by the BOE chair? Why were we asked if we had passed a foundational test – a test that was just recently put into existence by the state department of Ed – when all committee members have been classroom teachers with at least a K-5 elementary education certification for 5+ years?

    Please ask Mr. Lyons to explain his stance on the BOE’s dictatorship of the Norwalk Public Schools. According to his own quotes, he doesn’t believe in listening to the experts that work in his district. He would instead prefer to adopt something that he has been pushing since his days of PTO involvement at Marvin how many years ago. Furthermore, according to Mr. Lyons, the BOE does not need to “listen” to the superintendent’s recommendations either. Make no mistake: the BOE members control the district, not its residents or other stakeholders.

  36. M Allen

    Are there any legal mandates whereby the BOE is required to listen(adhere) to anyone with regard to these decisions? I’m not saying your perception of what is happening is right or wrong, but when you say “need to listen”, I’m just not sure there is a legal requirement for them to do so. The BOE does in fact control the district. That is what they have been elected to do. Or am I wrong about the Board’s role? I only make this point because when you have a Board with final say over your recommendations, you can only try and influence them to the best of your ability. If ultimate decision-making authority is in their hands then final accountability is as well.

  37. MarjorieM

    ‘If ultimate decision-making authority is in their hands then final accountability is as well.’
    When has a Board of Ed ever been accountable for test scores? When has a Board of Ed ever been accountable for texts or curriculum approved by them? How are you going to hold this Board accountable should test scores plummet with their choices? I’m still listening.

  38. Hobbes.the.Calvinist

    Mike Lyons claims the analysis was “one-sided”, but doesn’t refute a single fact.
    No Core Knowledge fan is saying that the choice of the professionals is bad.
    Makes me wonder about the “objectivity” of their analysis.
    If Core Knowledge is so wonderful, why did Mike Lyons want to hide the analysis in an executive session?

  39. MarjorieM

    Are there hidden kickbacks for Core Knowledge? What’s the hidden agenda? It doesn’t make any sense!

  40. M Allen

    Marjorie – you are making my broader case for me. There is ultimately nobody who is accountable in the true sense of the word. I don’t mean personal accountability where you hold yourself to some standard. I mean actually holing people or entities accountable for their actions or lack thereof. For the results of their actions or the lack thereof. No person or entity that can be held liable for not getting the job done. Those who are elected to office and preside over these institutions maintain the illusion of accountability in that they can be tossed out by the electorate. But so what? “Whoops, we tried. Oh well.” Then they are just replaced by others and the process repeats.

    There is nothing new here. That is government. If it doesn’t work, oh well. Spend more money, try something else. People cry and moan about the private sector and all its failings. But fail too much and you get fired. Fail too much and you go out of business. Fail due to negligence or incompetence and you can be sued. Not so much when we are dealing with government entities. It really is quite sad because the word “Accountability” is tossed around by every candidate. Yet really, what does that mean?

  41. Suzanne

    I am very surprised that you are surprised, M. Allen, at the idea that teachers are held accountable for the results of the education of their students. Here is how the “big book” of Merriam-Webster defines it:

    Definition of ACCOUNTABILITY

    : the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.

    This definition of “accountability”, the one you aluded to in an earlier entry in this thread would imply that, based on the current structure of Norwalk education where test scores are dominating indicators of teaching success, the quote I was challenging, that “Teachers have a much less strenuous degree of accountability” indicates exactly the opposite. Teachers are responsible for their students, not the BOE. Teaching is also very difficult – I wonder, if put to the test, if the non teachers of the BOE determining curriculum for the Norwalk teachers could follow through on that responsibility.

  42. A constructive debate requires that the debaters don’t impugn one another’s integrity (such as by the “kickback” comment- which is absurd).
    As for the role of the BOE, I read the state law in conjunction with our Policy as authorizing the BOE to approve or reject a textbook modification, but not to propose our own program. This is similar to what happens with administrative appointments– the BOE can only accept or reject someone who has been proposed by the Superintendent. The BOE has no independent hiring authority, but merely has consent authority.
    As for accountability, every BOE member should be held accountable for every vote taken, as well as for every action and inaction. The question is if the voters will hold the BOE members accountable.

  43. MarjorieM

    I mentioned kickback simply to push forward how absurd this week’s fiasco has become. No sound argument supporting CKLA has been provided by Mike Lyons. What is this all about? Is it ‘us’ vs ”them?’ What is it all about? And don’t tell me it’s about other districts, schools, States, etc. using this program. That’s no reason at all. Give me some sound educationally researched reasons so I don’t think this is only about looking to remove power from educators.

  44. M Allen

    It would be nice if people could stop viewing everything as “us vs. them”. Whoever “us” and “them” are. The BOE needs to utilize its trained and certified educators and administrative staff, the professionals, in the best manner possible. Likewise, those trained and certified professionals need to recognize that beyond providing the best input possible, it is ultimately the BOE’s decision.

    Not everything has to be the ultimate throwdown of “us vs. them”. Not everything is a personal affront to your relevancy or does it call into question whether you are valued as a human being. Every single one of these debates that involves our education system always seems to come down to some syllogistic fallacy: if you don’t take the teacher’s side then you must hate teachers and because teachers love children that must mean you in fact hate children. I now tempers flare and words are said as passions run high in what is obviously a passionate subject. But we have got to find a way of getting the job done without tearing the entire system apart every time an issue comes up.

  45. Bill Dunne

    MarjorieM: Read E.D. Hirsch’s “The Schools We Need.” If that doesn’t answer your question, “What is this all about?”, nothing will.

  46. MarjorieM

    Bill Dunne and others, I am fully aware of the criticisms leveled at Hirsch and his analysis of education and it’s needs. Are you familiar with the Harvard Educational Review Volume 69 Number 1 critical analysis of Hirsh? It is written to ‘review and deconstructHirsch’s ideological position and interrogates its relationship to broader rightist mobilization.’ I suggest you read it.

  47. Sue Haynie

    MarjorieM-

    I am not familiar with the Harvard Educational Review Volume 69 #1 critical analysis and deconstruction of ideology.

    I am familiar with E. D. Hirsch’s long and respected history with the American Federation of Teachers.

    http://www.amazon.com/Making-Americans-Democracy-Our-Schools/dp/0300168314
    “In this new book, E.D. Hirsch, a relentless advocate for universal common education, makes clear the very special relationship between education and democracy. Now more than ever we need his lessons to become part of our common wisdom.”—Randi Weingarten, President, The American Federation of Teachers
    (Randi Weingarten )

  48. MarjorieM

    The AFT is a Union, not a researched based institution, Sue Haynie. I would respect your opinion if you quoted valid research.

  49. Ante Litteram BOE

    Just so we are all clear on this, we have someone with some decision making authority who wants to rely upon the President of the AFT to bolster her judgment? According to Bill Dunne, that’s reason enough to reject Core Knowledge!

  50. MarjorieM

    @Nancy Chapman-Nancy, this comment section seems to show how controversial this topic really is. May I make a suggestion? Could you interview some literacy experts in the area? There are many with doctorates in literacy at local universities, Sacred Heart, etc.
    In my opinion, it is unfair to ask the new Superintendent. He hasn’t been involved in literacy issues in many years. He undoubtedly has allegiance to this Board of Ed. We need some heavy hitters to weigh in.

  51. The role of the Curriculum Committee in the adoption of curricula is broader than my fellow Board member Steve Colarossi suggests (“I read the state law in conjunction with our Policy as authorizing the BOE to approve or reject a textbook modification, but not to propose our own program”). The relevant state statute (CGS Sec. 10-220(e)) actually says “Each local and regional board of education shall establish a school district curriculum committee. The committee shall recommend, develop, review and approve all curriculum for the local or regional school district.” So the Curriculum Committee in fact is authorized to “recommend and develop”, not mere review, curricula.

    To Sara Sike’s question (“Why is the BOE going into Executive Session to discuss cost of curriculum programs … am I missing something here?”), it is standard operating procedure in all government agencies (recognized as such by the FOI Act) to review multiple price proposals from bidders in executive session (there are 5 active proposals for K-5 curricula pending). There is nothing unusual in the Board following that standard procedure.

  52. Haroldo V. Williams

    As stated by Mr. Lyons, the Connecticut state statute defines the role of the school district curriculum committee; but the statute does not appear to describe, define or provide guidance regarding the curriculum committee.
    However, the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) provides guidance for developing and/or revising the curriculum for school districts throughout the state of Connecticut. The SDE also recommends establishing a formal Curriculum Development Process that includes convening a Curriculum Development Committee, “… a committee, consisting primarily of teachers who represent the various schools and grade levels in a district, administrators, members of the public and perhaps students”.
    In addition, the State Department of Education’s guideline states that the Curriculum Development Committee should develop a guide that “provides direction for procurement of human, material and fiscal resources to implement the program”.
    Therefore, based on the guidance of the SDE — the administrative branch of the Connecticut State Board of Education — it appears that a committee consisting primarily of teachers and school administrators should be accountable for evaluating, and recommending all curriculum. It does not appear that the State of Connecticut either intended to, or has granted the power to the Board of Education to make the decision of determining the curriculum that would be most effective in meeting the educational needs of a school district.

    REFERENCE: Guide to Curriculum Development: Purposes, Practices, Procedures
    http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&q=321162

  53. Mr. Williams’ statement that “It does not appear that the State of Connecticut either intended to, or has granted the power to the Board of Education to make the decision of determining the curriculum that would be most effective in meeting the educational needs of a school district” is simply wrong. Not only is the Curriculum Committee appointed by the Board EXPLICITLY granted the power to do precisely that (the statute, as I quoted it above, says the Board-appointed Committee “shall recommend, develop, review and approve all curriculum for the local or regional school district”, but this is reinforced by state statute 10-229, which gives the Board exclusive authority to select all textbooks. The recommendation of the State BoE on how to select curricula is just that – a recommendation. The statutes establish the legal requirements, not that recommendation. Of course, the Committee gets input from teachers and staff on all curricula, and have previously approved the K-5 GoMath curriculum and the 6-12 ELA curriculum based on such recommendations. We will be reviewing the 6-8 math curriculum this Thursday. We should, and do, give great weight to recommendations from teachers and staff. But by state statute, the Board makes the final decision, and should not simply function as a rubber stamp.

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