Monday, June 21, 2004

Board of Education meeting

I went primarily for Mark Miller's swearing in as a member of the BoE, filling the seat vacated by Jerry Clifford. Congratulations, and good luck, Mark. We all owe you a debt for taking on this onerous, usually thankless, and often vilified, position.

The Language Arts advisory committee was presenting their findings this evening. While I couldn't stay for the report, I did hear a number of comments from community members, from both sides of the Phonics/Whole-Language divide. There's an awful lot of anger around the issue - mostly, it seems to me, from the programmed-instruction fans who have coalesced around the ACE organization.

I suppose that much of that anger comes from parents who feel that their children are being ill-served by the current curriculum. I can certainly appreciate that and, were my child having similar difficulties, I might feel a bit peevish myself. On the other hand, I don't think that the problem is really in the curriculum itself nor that the programmed-instruction approach they advocate will, on its own, do what they want. Children are all different. Within a even single classroom, children are at different developmental levels, have diverse skill sets, learning styles, etc. Differentiated instruction, not scripted programs, are called for.

One thing I do NOT understand is SOMEA's support of programmed reading instruction. It implies a distrust of teachers' abilities - an unseemly position for their own union to be taking. There certainly ARE problems with elementary reading instruction in the SO/M district, as is obvious from the committee's survey results, as well as from various standardized measures. BUT - I believe the teachers AND their students would be much better served if, instead of purchasing an expensive, all-encompassing program like Open Court, the district spent that money, and more, on what is REALLY needed - adequate staff development and training. I understand that part of SOMEA's displeasure with the Language Arts curriculum is that teachers don't get sufficient support, or guidance in how to implement it. More professional training is the way to go - make our teachers better teachers, of better, more thoughtful, more insightful students - not followers of scripts ministering to rote learners.

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