Archives for category: Curriculum director

From a district veteran:

In the late 1960’s the public schools in this country threw out curricula probably due to the massive popular unrest caused by the Vietnam War. There were a lot of problems with the old curricula, but there were good things, too. In the early 1980s, there was unusual unanimity on the Irvington BOE that the Irvington schools needed more curricula. Bizarre as it may seem, each teacher was allowed to “do your own thing.” The older teachers generally retained content curricula. We had two very competent principals at the Middle School and the High School who were supporters of curricula. Dows Lane was a mess.

In those days the BOE each year came up with objectives for the District and each principal came up with his objectives for the year. The BOE wanted a review of a curriculum area each year and that became a District objective and an objective of the principals. A curriculum committee was established which included the department chair, some teachers and some community members. A timetable was set for a public presentation to the BOE. The BOE felt that this method kept the pressure on the schools to develop curricula. The principals at the MS and HS welcomed this because it gave them leverage with the faculty – they could say it was the BOE’s idea, not their idea. This schema didn’t always work and wasn’t implemented every year, but the BOE never lost sight of curricula development.

The constant pressure on curricula was very positive for the schools. It was understood by the BOE, the administration, and the faculty that curricula changes needed public BOE approval. Public presentations of the curriculum committee and of any proposed curricula changes were insisted upon. The faculty and administration welcomed the opportunity for public presentations. The BOE was not trying to second guess or dictate curricula and the faculty and administration knew that. The public presentations validated the curricula work done and were appreciated by the BOE and the public.

There was resistance, particularly at Dows Lane. The Science Dept made overtures to Dows Lane teachers to give them assistance developing science education at DL and were repeatedly rebuffed. There also was constant pressure from Albany to teach “skills” which usually resulted in forcing the loss of content.

It seems to be necessary for the BOE to keep the pressure on the administration and the faculty. Possibly with all the construction over the years, the BOE lost sight of its curricula responsibilities because of the need to oversee the construction. If curricula are going to get developed or improved, it has to be done with public involvement and participation of the whole school community which includes the BOE. The faculty and administration have to do the work on curricula, but they are not going to do it without the BOE requiring it be done. Making the work a public matter gives recognition to the faculty which they generally appreciate.

What RK is doing is not curricula development – she is reacting to the nonsense from Washington and Albany. It seems like the BOE is absent. There must be some conscientious teachers who care about curricula, but are they getting any support from the Dept. Chairs and the administration? Who is telling RK what to do or approving her projects and recommendations?

One may feel that there are too many areas of the curricula that need improvement to concentrate on one area. However, focusing on one area in a public way will stimulate effort on all areas. Suppose the BOE said to the administration that they wanted a comprehensive review of all English curricula K – 12 and, working with the Supt. and the Asst. Supt., organized a committee and set a timetable for a report and public presentation?

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IUFSD Factoids

Just back from the Common Core meeting at Main Street School tonight.

One factoid that leapt out at me: the price of a new K-5 math textbook series, RK reported, is roughly $100K. That is the reason, she said, or a reason, we do not have math textbooks. Normally, at this point in the cycle,* we would be vetting published textbooks, piloting them in the classroom, and choosing the one that works best, but not now, not with Common Core.

Today we’re using the free “math modules” being posted on engageny, downloading each module as it’s posted. The math modules are new, so new they are being written as we speak. They have never been taught by a teacher, or field-tested with a child. But they are free, and they carry the Common Core brand, so we are using them.

The ancient tradition of textbook adoption and 10-year textbook adoption cycles is gone with the wind.

Meanwhile we have over $2 million dollars sitting in the fund balance, as the district’s auditor confirmed three board meetings ago. The sum in the IUFSD fund balance, he said, is the “maximum allowable under the law.”

(He also mentioned that the law did not require an audit of our federal funds because we received less than $500K from the federal government.)

So. $2.16 million in the fund balance and we’re downloading never-before-taught math modules from the internet because they’re aligned with Common Core and they’re free.

Meanwhile Singapore and Saxon Math have been around for years, have been extensively field-tested, and have at least some reasonably sound data to show their effectiveness. And the Singapore series (Primary Mathematics) is universally endorsed by real mathematicians, as opposed to “math educators” (the term of art in ed-school precincts). Singapore Math may be the best math curriculum available in the English language.

For $100K Irvington children could learn math from the best math curriculum in the English language, or, for $0 Irvington children can learn math from engageny math modules the district downloads from the web.

We chose Door Number 2.

Here’s a question.

If we did not have a Curriculum Director, would we have math textbooks?

Would classroom teachers, acting on their own, choose to teach math without a textbook?

I don’t believe they would. Teaching math from packets is as hard as learning math from packets, or can be. I know because I teach grammar and writing from packets. My students need a good textbook, and so do I.

But education schools dislike textbooks, which they see as old-fashioned, sage-on-the-stage affairs, and curriculum directors are trained by education schools.

Untested math modules on the internet are “21st century” (a compliment in the education world), just like the position of “Curriculum Director itself,” which, like the math modules, did not exist at all in days gone by.


We’ve still got timed worksheets, which is more than most districts can say. And we’re going to continue to have timed worksheets: RK mentioned “fluency” several times. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the concept of fluency incorporated into other subjects: a very good idea. We desperately need to give kids fluency in reading and writing (something I’m working on myself in my own teaching).

Things could be worse. (See, e.g.: Dobbs Ferry)

UPDATE: “Fluency” = “automaticity.” Both words describe actions — and “thoughts” — you can perform rapidly, accurately, and largely or entirely outside of conscious awareness.

People who are fluent in a skill or area of content are fluent. This is why the requirement that children “explain” how they reached their answer in math is so wrong. Very often, a student who is really good at math just “gets it” without having to resort to effort-filled, conscious  reasoning. When you force that student to “explain his reasoning,” you force him or her to “translate” his correct answer into words; you force him or her to function in the way a less talented student does.

Contra RK’s assertion last night, in the real world, NOT having to “think” is the goal. We need to acquire sufficient knowledge, and sufficient “automaticity” in our knowledge, that we look at a problem and know.

We should save thinking, which is tremendously effortful and rapidly drains mental resources, for advanced questions, and strive for fluency in everything else.

Fluency is reached through knowledge stored in long-term memory.

* UPDATE 10/26/2013: A friend reminds me that we do not have a 10-year textbook adoption cycle, as mentioned during the presentation. We have a 3-year curriculum cycle (or curriculum-review cycle). The 3-year cycle, as I recall, does not require that we change textbooks; we revisit textbook choices and review.

Fund balance could pay for $385K administrative offices