Evaluating Curricula—# 8
What does the team report to the committee about progress in finding research on reading curricula?
Anna, Jamie, and Alberto attend a meeting of the curriculum committee. They are members. Based on their expressions of concern weeks ago about adopting a system-wide early litearcy curriculum, they expect to have to report the findings of their research.
The chair of the commitee, Mrs. Sheriff, is a community member who was a long-time principal for the local school system. She is widely respected by the community. Although she stands ram-rod straight (and she is tall) and seems almost military in her demeanor, she is a lot less servere than many people take her at first.
Chair: Without objection, I’ll call the meeting to order [waits…and then repeats]: Excuse me, I’m calling the meeting to order. [As side- and personal-conversation gradually end, she raps her gavel and continues.] I’d ask for approval of the agenda….”
One of the board members immediately replies that he moves approval of the agenda. Jamie objects.
Jamie: Excuse me. I would like to know why the agenda doesn’t include approval of the XYZ program that we heard about last month. I don’t mean that I am recommending it, but I thought it would be on our agenda.
Chair: Staff [looking directly at Anna] didn’t tell me that this was an item. I am glad to add it. Any objections? Hearing none, we’ll add a few minutes to review if we want to recommend the XYZ method for early literacy. [Pause.] Agreed. OK, on to the Pledge of Allegiance….
After reciting the pledge, the committee members discussed various topics from the agenda. One member wondered whether teachers’ lesson plans must adhere to curricula? How would the committee know if those lesson plans did adhere to guidelines? Another board member replied that he would want to be able to tell whether a biology lesson advocating abortion or even “preached evolution” was occurring; he would want to be able to sit in classes and assess teaching on his own. “I want to see for myself, and I think many parents here would want to know if their children are being taught things that make our families’ and even our religions’ teachings look bad.”
Discussions ensued about the plusses and minuses of parents observing individual lessons and interpreting them as favoring one political perspective or another. Someone wondered if it would be wise to bring in consultants, acting as surrogates for parents, to observe lessons. Someone wondered if observing one lesson would provide sufficient evidence to indict a teacher or curriculum.
As she listened to the comments, Jamie thought that, by analogy, these perspectives were pretty important. People had lots of different perspectives. Maybe Professor Bebop was right…it was people’s perceptions that mattered. Her colleagues on the committee were coming from very different perspectives. She wondered if the notes she’d made for the meeting were correct, wise, sensible.
Near the end of the meeting, Mrs. Sheriff returned to Jamie’s “new business.” When Jamie realized she needed to report, she recognized that she hadn’t prepared sufficiently. Her notes might be inadequate.
She knew that she simply had to report what had transpired in the last months, as she, Alberto, and Anna pursued research results. But, she realized that she was wading into some deep water. People might not be as interested as she was interested in what worked for kids’ learning. They might be more interested in what fit with their world view.
As that thought flashed through her thinking, Jamie realized that it was her turn to speak. She hesitated, and then thinking that she had to speak factually but “from her heart,” she started her report.
“Thank you, Mrs. Sheriff, for the time to return to the discussion of early literacy curriculums,” Jamie began. “Our little subgroup,” nodding to her friends, “Alberto, Anna, and me, have spent some time asking researchers about finding out what literacy programs are most effective. We wanted to learn not just how well children learned to read and spell and write, but if some…a couple of curriculums worked well, which one was more effective…well, ‘efficient…,’ better from a cost view.”
Jamie looked around the room, gulped and looked directly at Alberto. He was nodding. She thought, “He’s encouraging me. I wish he would speak up, but he’s telling me to go ahead.”
“We scheduled a meeting and met with a professor at State.” Jamie continued. “We asked her about if some literacy methods were more effective than other methods.” Jamie paused, thinking about how Alberto had rescued them when their cars had been towed. The pause also provided some dramatic effect. “Well, she told us that we were asking the wrong question. She told us that it wasn’t if some kids could learn to read faster than others, that it wasn’t about how many kids learned to read…it was about how the parents, teachers, and kids felt about the kids learning to read.”
Jamie looked around the room and had an uncomfortable feeling. She was afraid that her report was already turning off some of the committee members. They might think she was doubting the experts’ opinion. They might think that her research was pointing to less parental control. They might think she was trying to 'snow’ them. She wasn’t sure what the others were thinking, but Anna was nodding. Jamie took the nods as a sign of encouragement. After just a second or two she continued.
“Later, when we talked with the research professor from State, she told us some other professors might be able to help us answer our questions about effectiveness of reading curricula, such as XYZ.” Jamie paused and, remembering the reference to learning in mazes, took a breath. “So, that’s where we are: We are still working and I hope we can give a better report next meeting. But it’s been a lot more work than I thought. It’s really hard to evaluate reseach about curriculums.”
Anna hardly missed a beat. She nearly immediately chimed in to express her support for Jamie’s report. “Jamie’s account of our efforts is on the nose. She just omitted some minor facts like, we took some personal shots during the work…in fact, we both had our cars towed and had to pay to get them out of impound…and thanks to Al for giving us a ride to the tow lot.” Anna paused and looked around, noticing that only a few board members were even looking at her. She continued, sliding into her administrator’s sensibility, “But, more importantly, we learned—as Jamie indicated—that there are different pespectives on reseach. And some authorities disagree with other authorities about what’s important. So, anyway, we want to continue tosearch for help with learning about if XYZ is good. Alberto?”
Alberto had been listening pretty closely, but he wasn’t expecting to speak and wasn’t sure what, eactly, the question was. He took Anna’s saying his name as an introduction to make his own comments.
“I agree,” Alberto said. “I think we should get more evidence.” He paused, and then continued. “Some of what we learned is important. I don’t want to forget it. Do some kids, let’s just say, Hispanics or Blacks…do they have different ideas about becoming readers? If they do (or their families do), we should pay attention to that.” Alberto paused. “But first things first. If they can’t read, their education has failed. I don’t know about people who say children need to have choice about their education. If they can’t read, they have no choice. If you can’t read, you cannot chose if you will or won’t read. No choice. So I think we need to look not only at what people…what are peoples’ experiences, but at what works.”
Chair: Well, it’s late and I thank you all for your efforts. The chair will entertian a motion to continue this discussion until our next meeting….
The meeting was adjourned.
As members rose to depart and talked among themselves, Jamie almost visably slumped at her seat. She was not just tired, but she was concerned that her hopes about employing effective interventions were dissolving. She might not be able to find research about whether curricula were effective, but she might run into what seemed to be a political storm, even if she had evidence. Fellow board members might interpret the evidence differently or even, outright, dismiss the research.
Things looked grim to her as she sat there and the room emptied. She felt like her hopes were circling a drain. She just wanted to get home, get a good night’s sleep, and have a nice run before work the next day…to get back to her core self.
Then she remembered that helping kids succeed was a big part of her core self.
Pretty quickly, the meeting became a shouting match. That member of the committee (and some members of the audience) began a vigorous, unmoderated debate about their views of many issues, though few of the comments were explcitly about the question of requiring or monitoring teachers’ implementation of curricula. They argued that they and their children were being marginalized because of their religous heritage; one said, “We know that life began about 6000 years ago. Teaching any other curriculum is just flat wrong.”
In the midst of this period of uproar, Jamie shot a glance at Anna and noticed that she, Anna, was looking at her notes. She looked at Alberto and saw that he was watching the goings-on with virtually no expression on his face…just observing. A few minutes later, as the volume of the audience’s speakers increased, she saw that Anna was watching, with her jaw open, as someone was speaking loudly and bombastically.
Eventually, Mrs. Shariff was able to gavel the group of about 25 back into order. She requested input from appointed members of committee there after and allowed that there was, according to the agenda, time alloted for public comment later.
Mrs. Shariff then led the commitee through a much calmer discusson of other items on the agenda. Amidst occasional grumblings from the audience, there were discussions about whether students could wear costumes on special days for history classes (does age group matter?) and whether early education should or should not include elements of algebra (not defined clearly).