It is a beautiful Saturday outside today, and yet here I am sitting at my computer writing this article instead of enjoying the outdoors.
For the last 6-7 years I have worked diligently to help local high school students navigate their way through their science and math course work, but I am increasingly feeling like I am putting my fingers in multiple holes in the leaking education dike.
I think I understand how Martin Luther felt when he nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, just over 500 years ago.
Our local schools have a long history of educational experimentation. I have written previously about:
the failed trial of CPM in the Aragon High School precalculus program which was the reason that I started blogging.
Many parents have also related numerous stories of problems with the math curriculum at Borel Middle School in the past.
THE NEXT SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS DESCRIBE THE LATEST FIASCO.
AFTER THAT I AM ISSUING A CALL TO ACTION TO PEOPLE IN OUR COMMUNITY WHO ARE CONCERNED ABOUT OUR SCHOOLS.
Last Monday I met with San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) Superintendent Skelly about the latest “revolutionary” change: the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) implementation in high school science.
As I wrote recently on this blog, the high school district has embarked on what the Curriculum and Assessment Director stated was “arguably the greatest reformulation of our science curriculum that has ever been undertaken.”
This recognition would hopefully give most teachers a moment of pause before forging ahead, but I was originally told by the curriculum director that an upcoming April 2018 testing deadline by the state was the cause for the change.
I asked if there were textbooks available that were aligned with the new science standards, but was told “no.” The teachers were not only redoing their lesson plans but also had to develop the course materials and homework problem sets. They were being given some amount of paid professional development time (the sum of which seemed rather inadequate to me) during last summer and this school year to assist each other with this daunting task. I told both Director Simmons and Superintendent Skelly that I found it hard to believe that they had found scores of enthusiastic volunteers for this project.
Why hasn’t this created an outcry among the parents? Unfortunately the reason seems to be that these changes do NOT affect the AP science classes, which are controlled by the College Board, not the State of California, so the most vocal group of parents is not impacted!!
HOWEVER, during my discussion with Superintendent Skelly, he mentioned a trend that I have also seen in almost ALL science and math classes in the last several years.
Teachers are not making much use of textbooks any more in their lessons and assignments. Superintendent Skelly did not necessarily like this trend, but he indicated that this was why the lack of a standards-aligned textbook was not considered an impediment to moving forward.
I replied that an important goal of education is to turn students into life-long learners. This means that they should become accustomed to teaching themselves out of books and other primary sources. If they are not exposed to this practice in high school, it will make it all the more difficult for them when they get to college.
Textbooks are also the source for large numbers of practice problems in science and math. If a student finishes a worksheet but still feels uncertain about the material, they have nowhere else to turn if they do not have a textbook with worked examples.
It is also unrealistic to expect a working teacher to develop the same quality of practice problems as those found in a textbook that is written by experts and has undergone multiple revisions.
Superintendent Skelly said that NGSS had been adopted back in 2013, that they had to begin its implementation at some time, and “did I not want to change anything?”
I cited the many failed experiments that I listed in this article above and protested that California schools always seem to think that they have a license to experiment on our kids with impunity. I said that this has got to stop!!
I continued saying that K-12 science and math does not change rapidly. If a district adopts a good textbook series, that textbook series can be the guide as to when things need to change. Textbooks are always revised over time. Teachers are always sent free copies from publishers to review, and they should be free to decide when to add new material to their lesson plans. It is complete folly to throw everything away, as is being done with an excellent regular physics program at Aragon, and start over from scratch! We need to push back against the steady stream of top-down mandates that have become extremely disruptive to quality education.
I like Superintendent Skelly; he is a very nice, intelligent, and reasonable person, and we had a good discussion about these issues, but I left our meeting feeling like this train had left the station, and the odds of stopping it were nil.
I have been stewing about this all week before writing this article, but now feel that I have no other option than to appeal to the community in the hope that there are other like-minded people out there who still care about quality public education.
Hopefully many of these people will be members of the local teaching staff who are getting fed up with having mandates imposed on them by the Feds, by the state, and by local districts who blindly follow the state.
I tried to reach out privately to some of these people before going to our district but unfortunately received very minimal response.
There are many education reformers these days that simply give up on public schools and try to starve them out of existence by creating charter schools that sap public funds. While this leads to a few success stories, on average charter schools do not do better than public schools and have at times been riddled with fraud and abuse because of lack of transparency.
During education discussions on our local Nextdoor.com newsfeed, there are usually mentions of parents withdrawing their children from local schools and putting them in private schools. This is not an option for many parents, particularly in this high-priced area.
As difficult as it may seem to be, I am hoping to hear from local people who are as concerned, if not more so, than I am about our schools, and might be willing to band together to do something to stabilize the curriculum in our schools and stop the frequently radical education fads that sweep our schools.
I am thinking about renting a meeting room for a brainstorming session if enough people of good will are interested in attending.
If you might be one of those people, please contact me via the Contact page on this blog, and describe your background and how you might be able to contribute to this effort. If there is sufficient interest I will send you the meeting venue and time. This is not meant to be a public bitching session open to all, but rather a forum that will explore what, if anything, can be done to improve our kids’ education.
I also intend to send copies of this article to both the SMFCSD and SMUHSD Boards and superintendents, and would welcome their participation. This is, after all, their responsibility, but the sad history above indicates that large mistakes that have impacted many students have been made several times.
Fortunately we live in an area of great technical expertise. Perhaps we need to get more of these people to volunteer and sit on textbook review committees as one possible example. For example, we can’t reasonably expect every elementary school teacher to be an expert in mathematics; it is far more important that they have the empathy and desire to work with and teach children. But, just perhaps, technical people in the community might be able to offer guidance in the choice of a good mathematics or science curriculum??!!