We Should Know the Truth
It is an excruciating phenomenon in current public education practices: the hiring of education consultants to tell the bigwigs either what they already know or what they want to hear. And, to enable the district to check bureaucratic boxes on the list of requirements that politicians create.
Toward that end, my current school district has decided it has a glaring need to find out the following two bits of info:
what curricular sources are being used by individual teachers in individual schools; and
whether these sources are culturally sensitive and relevant.
One might naturally assume that the curriculum department of the district has already discovered these two items through its vetting process. After all, teachers may only teach using approved materials, and is it not the job of a curriculum department to ascertain the appropriateness of the textbooks it approves?
As for the supplemental materials a teacher uses, is it not the job of the principal to vet those?
Perhaps. But the strategy for discovery that my district chose, instead of asking its curriculum department and each principal, was to pay a consulting firm millions of dollars to get this information for them.
I have two questions here. First, if the curriculum department does not know what’s in the textbooks they have approved, why must teachers supply it? And second, is this a useful way to allocate precious tax dollars?
Anyway, the consulting firm now has the reins, and they have decided to require teachers to fill out this chart. It applies only to our reading and writing programs, and will have to be completed for the other subjects we teach in years to come:
Compiling information like this takes a lot of time. It feels like an egregious waste of time because it is redundant. Most teachers teach the reading program (from the textbook publisher) in the order it is presented in the book. Each unit follows a different theme, and the units progress from easier to harder. It only makes sense to teach them in order. What the consulting firm is requiring, really, is that we take the information from the scope and sequence of the textbook and insert it into the chart.
In fact, when I asked my principal if it was all right to copy the information from the teacher’s edition into this chart, she smiled wryly at me and said, “I would.” And I thought, ‘Even you think this is a waste of time, don’t you?’
Requirements like this create cynicism among teachers. Cynicism leads to doubt in the overall efficacy of the program, which taints the quality of education. It is, unfortunately, a practice that has been proliferating since 2001, when NCLB was enacted: it has become more important to report on education than to deliver it.
The second bullet point, the one that pertains to cultural sensitivity and relevance, is addressed using this rubric provided by the consulting firm:
Culturally Responsive and Equitable Teaching Practices — Rubric Overview
Materials should be culturally responsive and include a variety of student experiences and representations to avoid bias and promote equity.
Curricular support materials, across the range of resources, meet the following criteria:
* Are free from stereotypes, generalizations, misrepresentations, or negative portrayals of any group (e.g., based on culture, nationality, language, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identification, disability, socioeconomic status, or religion, etc.)
* Provide opportunities for students to share or learn about each other’s differences;
* Present opportunities to recognize and value differences between the home cultures of students and the culture of the classroom or school;
* Promote diverse voices and perspectives of different groups;
* Provide relevant background knowledge when needed and/or opportunities to research aspects of a culture to learn more.
This set of criteria must be applied to all materials used for language arts instruction this year and reported to the consulting firm in a separate online document. How long do you think that’s going to take? And next year, the consulting firm will decide on a different subject for us to apply these criteria to. This will go on until all the subject area resources have been vetted. And when we’re finally finished, five years from now, we can start again because we need to make sure those publishing companies aren’t trying to slip something nefarious into their textbooks!
But what’s the bang for the buck? To anyone working in a school, even our principal, it feels like compliance and nothing more. Further, why would any teacher share in a survey that she is not teaching culturally sensitive and relevant curriculum?
Many people might say it’s a good idea for teachers to understand the cultural aspects of the material they are using, and I agree with that. This task, though, does not seem designed for that purpose. It seems designed to check boxes only. If we really want teachers to understand the cultural content in the materials they are using, why not have each school devote one of its in-service sessions to examining the curricular items it uses? The principal can then certify to her bosses that such a session was held and that teachers are considering cultural content and sensitivity when delivering lessons and assigning content.
But that would be too easy and make too much logical sense.
Consulting firms are the next cottage industry to infiltrate education. It’s a neat little money-maker if you can figure out how to make it work. What consultants are doing is worse than monetary grift, however. Their activities exacerbate the current philosophy of education in this country: teaching, indeed the entire education process, is too complex for the ordinary person to understand.
The firm we’re using, WestEd out of California, offers seminars on equity-driven strategies for improving attendance, for example. They also have a recent page devoted to discussion of what they call the Four Domains Framework for improving education: Turnaround Leadership, Talent Development, Instructional Transformation, and Culture Shift.
Peruse their website and find out for yourself just how complicated teaching has become, as well as how consulting firms are driving the trajectory of education. It might make your head spin; it should give us all a reason to get involved in how our tax dollars are spent.
Read K-12 Education Consulting, Part 2, here. Find out how George Orwell's concepts of newspeak and doublethink have been woven into our collective psyche.