Texas’ New English Curriculum Standards Spiraling out of Control
“Texas’ New English Curriculum Standards Spiraling out of Control”
By Donna Garner
Texans, I just want to cry (or scream) when I see how terribly complicated these ELAR/TEKS Review Teams have made ELAR (English / Language Arts / Reading) seem. Students should love English class instead of hate it. English teachers should enjoy teaching their subject rather than dreading the new ELAR/TEKS curriculum standards that are coming down the pike.
ELAR/TEKS Review Teams have been chosen by the members of the elected Texas State Board of Education. These Teams are supposed to be in the process of “reviewing” the present ELAR/TEKS – not rewriting them.
PROBLEMS WITH STRAND NAMES
The strand names form the foundation in the ELAR/TEKS (similar to an outline or a framework). The strand names drive whatever content (a.k.a., elements) will be placed under them. The strand names dictate whether the document will be Type #1 (traditional, knowledge-based, academic, objectively measured) or whether it will be Type #2 (subjective, constructivist, group-think, emphasis on students’ feelings, beliefs, emotions).
To give people an example of the way Type #1 strand names should look, I have posted various sets. One set of strand names is from the English Success Standards which we classroom teachers wrote and later updated in 2008. The second set of strand names is from the present ELAR/TEKS that are presently being used in all Texas public schools, K-12.
The third set of strand names is based upon the Type #2 philosophy of education which is found in the Common Core. This third set is the one used in the Nov. 2015 ELAR/TEKS Draft. When there was an outcry from various SBOE members and from the expert testifiers at the 1.26.16 Board meeting over the wording of the strand names, the Review Committee team leaders met recently to reword them.
(At the end of this article, I have posted a comparison of the strand names in the Nov. 2015 Draft — presented at the 1.26.16 SBOE meeting — COMPARED TO the “revised” wording of 2.8.16. Through this comparison, it is easy to see that hardly any substantive changes have been made.)
FIRST SET – ENGLISH SUCCESS STANDARDS (ESS)
The ESS strands are clear, concise, and easy to understand. The wording of the strands changes a little bit as children learn to read K-3; but from Grade 4 – 12, the strand names stay the same: http://truthinamericaneducation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/English.Success.Standards.doc :
(1)Listening and Speaking
(9)*Word Identification (added in Grade 1)
(10)Reading Comprehension and Fluency
(11)Independent Reading/Assigned Reading
(14)*Inquiry, Research, Study Strategies (added in Grade 1)
STRANDS IN THE PRESENT ELAR/TEKS
(4) Listening and Speaking
(5) Oral and Written Conventions
STRANDS AFTER THE ELAR/TEKS REVIEW TEAM LEADERS SUPPOSEDLY REVAMPED THEM BECAUSE OF COMPLAINTS FROM THE SBOE AND EXPERTS – 2.8.16
(1)Develop and sustain foundational language skills through listening, speaking, reading, and writing
(2) Develop and sustain comprehension skills through listening, speaking, reading, and writing
(3) Develop and sustain the ability to respond through listening, speaking, reading, and writing, using multiple texts
(4) Develop and sustain the ability to effectively collaborate using listening, speaking, reading, and writing
(5) Develop and sustain understanding of multiple genres through listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts
(6) Develop and sustain understanding of author’s purpose and craft using listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts
(7) Develop and sustain understanding of composition and presentation through listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts
(8) Develop and sustain understanding of inquiry and research through listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts.
CONFUSION CAUSED BY STRAND NAMES
By looking at the set just above, it is easy to see why the ELAR/TEKS Review Teams are having so much trouble agreeing upon what the terms mean and where each element is supposed to fit? In the ESS and the present ELAR/TEKS strands, nobody has to wonder what elements would fit under each category.
Because of the way the ELAR/TEKS Review Teams have the strands worded now, confusion abounds. Some of the SBOE members are even calling for a “clarification document” to be given to teachers to help them understand what the terms in the “new” ELAR/TEKS document mean. That is ludicrous. The strands and the document should be so clearly written that any parents, students, and teachers could understand the wording right away without having the school district feel the necessity to hire expensive consultants, curriculum directors, and professional staff to “interpret” the document.
The professional development for teachers should not be about helping them learn the interpretations, definitions, and clarifications of the actual strand names. The PD should be spent on helping teachers to learn the content knowledge necessary to teach each element under each of the strands.
STRAND NAMES – TYPE #2 PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION – SAME AS COMMON CORE
The ELAR/TEKS Review Committee is obviously trying to implement the Type #2 philosophy of education into Texas’ public schools – K-12. This is the same type found in the Common Core in which students read short pieces of informational text or excerpts from fiction – taken out of context – and not in the chronological order in which they were written.
The idea of “thematic” units is promoted by this Type #2/CC method because then students are deliberately NOT taught anything in a historical context in the order in which the world developed – just a snipped of informational text from 1943 here and a snippet from 1850 there and a snippet from 1500 here and lots of snippets taken from 2008-2015. No systematic, chronological teaching of an entire novel from the 1500’s and then one taken from the 1600’s and then the 1700’s… The Common Core Type #2 model makes students vulnerable to the interpretations of history/literature made by those who write the curriculum.
By having a separate strand called “Collaboration,” students will spend their days in project-based learning and in group-think rather than being held accountable for individual learning. Collaboration cannot be objectively evaluated by the teacher and forces teachers to organize their classrooms into a set methodology. The SBOE is forbidden by law to mandate methodology by prescribing HOW teachers are to teach the curriculum standards.
TYPE #2 COMMON CORE USED IN THE TEACHING OF LITERATURE
Here is a description of the Type #2 Common Core method of teaching literature (a.k.a., informational text): No studying of an author’s life and how the person’s life experiences might have impacted his writing and writing style, no study of an author’s purpose in writing the book, no study of the historical events of the day or the historical events leading up to the writing of the book, no trying to help students understand the cultural values that were in place when the literary piece was written, no emphasis on how the literary piece might have impacted other contemporary literary pieces or those that came later – no reading of an entire classical novel from beginning to end with each new novel moving in chronological order through history –
Under this Type #2/CC plan, teachers are not supposed to take a class novel and have their students read and study it page by page as they discuss it. Students are not given the time to enjoy the beauty of the plot/setting/characters, are not to become so familiar with the characters that they almost consider them to be their “friends,” are not to discuss the literary devices simply to understand a deeper meaning.
The idea of great literature is so that students can enjoy reading these pieces of classical literature/history in their entirety while growing so close to the characters that students learn from them about life, consequences, decisions, values, judgments, personalities, etc. Hopefully the positive elements in these great books will guide students’ in their own lives. Such growth in student character will not occur if they only read snippets of informational text or pieces of fiction selections without the freedom to get close enough to the text to develop any empathy or deep understanding. I cannot think of any way to kill students’ love of reading any faster than having them read snippets out of context (called “cold” reading) and then to “analyze them to death” through collaboration activities.
STRAND NAMES LIMIT DEEP LEARNING OF ENGLISH PROFICIENCY
I also want to cry (or scream) when I see the little emphasis at each grade level in the Review Teams’ drafts that they give to the deep learning of grammar/usage/spelling. In the documents, there is just a hit-and-miss mention of grammar/usage/spelling in students’ writing – not a systematic learning to mastery of the many grammatical concepts that students need to know to become successful writers and speakers. Students cannot use a grammatical element correctly in their writing and speaking unless they have a solid understanding of the structure of the English language. The strand names also do not allow for an intentional emphasis on students’ developing correct spelling skills and an expansion of their vocabulary levels by learning words that grow more complex as students move through each grade level.
CONCERNS VOICED AT JAN. 2016 SBOE MEETING
Below is the Texas Education Agency’s archived webcast of the 1.26.16 SBOE meeting:
The archived webcast of the January 26, 2016, meeting can be accessed at — http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/committee_of_the_full_board/20160126/.
The recording of testimony provided is divided into three parts:
- Part 1 consists of the English language arts and reading committee members and one of the board-appointed experts for English language arts and reading. (2 hours, 18 minutes)
- Part 2 consists of the remaining board-appointed experts for the English language arts and reading, followed by the Spanish language arts and reading experts and committee representatives. The final segment in Part II features the testimony of a representative from the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (TCTELA) invited by the committee to testify. (3 hours, 12 minutes)
- Part 3 of the recording features the testimony from individuals who registered to provide public testimony to the committee. (2 hours, 2 minutes)
I have listened to Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of the 1.26.16 SBOE meeting, and I was disgusted by the answers from the various ELAR/TEKS Team Leaders when SBOE members tried to point out the problems with having the same wording in multiple grade levels.
When SBOE members mentioned the deletion of the explicit terms “American,” “British,” and “historical” from the literature sections in the Nov. 2015” ELAR/TEKS Draft, the Review Team leaders seemed to pay little interest.
Several of the SBOE members tried to emphasize that cursive writing cannot just be a phrase at the end of one sentence in one grade level but needs to have preparatory skills taught leading up to a child’s mastering the writing and the reading of cursive. (The present ELAR/TEKS require the teaching of cursive, yet parents all over Texas say their children do not know how to write nor read cursive.) The Team Leaders seemed give little thought to their replies.
A large number of SBOE members and experts voiced their concern over having a Type #2 “Collaboration” strand because it is both methodology and cannot be objectively measured. Again, those concerns were ignored; and the Collaboration strand remains in the 2.8.16 revamped wording.
STRAND NAMES MUST BE CHANGED
I hate to sound as if I am all gloom and doom, but I see no way that any substantive changes are going to be made to the Nov. 15 ELAR/TEKS Draft unless the names of the strands (the framework) are completely dumped and replaced by strand names that by definition will require Type #1 traditional elements to be taught/learned.
CHART – TYPE #1 vs. TYPE #2 PHILOSOPHIES OF EDUCATION — http://www.educationviews.org/comparison-types-education-type-1-traditional-vs-type-2-cscope-common-core/
Below I have posted the strand names from the Nov. 15 ELAR/TEKS Draft as they compare to the newly revised 2.8.16 strand names. It is clear that the leaders made very few changes, thus basically ignoring the concerns expressed by a number of the SBOE members and the experts.
GRADE 1 — THE STRANDS FOR 2016 REVIEW TEAM’S ELAR/TEKS
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #1 — Developing and Sustaining Foundational Language Skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing.
2.8.16 — #1 — Develop and sustain foundational language skills through listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
NOV. 15 DRAFT #2 — Comprehension: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing using Multiple Texts
2.8.16 — #2 — Develop and sustain comprehension skills through listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #3 Response: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing using Multiple Texts.
2.8.16 — #3 — Develop and sustain the ability to respond through listening, speaking, reading, and writing, using multiple texts.
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #4 — Collaboration: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing using Multiple Texts
2.8.16 — #4 — Develop and sustain the ability to effectively collaborate using listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #5 Multiple Genres: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing using Multiple Texts.
2.8.16 –#5 — Develop and sustain understanding of multiple genres through listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts.
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #6 Author’s Purpose and Craft: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing using Multiple Texts.
2.8.16 – #6 — Develop and sustain understanding of author’s purpose and craft using listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts.
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #7 Composition and Presentation: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing using Multiple Texts
2.8.16 — #7 — Develop and sustain understanding of composition and presentation through listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts.
NOV. 15 DRAFT — #8 Inquiry and Research: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing using Multiple Texts
2.8.16 — #8 — Develop and sustain understanding of inquiry and research through listening, speaking, reading, and writing using multiple texts.