OPEN LETTER TO DR. RAYMUND PAREDES RE: INTIMIDATION AND BULLYING BY HIGH SCHOOL ELAR/TEKS WRITING TEAM

May 25, 2017 by

Open Letter to Dr. Raymund Paredes, Chair of Higher Education Coordinating Board and to concerned Texas education leaders

Re:  Intimidation and bullying used by the High School English / Language Arts (ELAR) TEKS Writing Team

From:  Paula Moore, Appointee to High School ELAR/TEKS Writing Team

Date:  5.24.17


My name is Paula Moore, and I was appointed to the Texas High School English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) TEKS (curriculum standards used in Texas) writing team. 

The task given to us by the Texas State Board of Education was to review (not rewrite) the present ELAR/TEKS (curriculum standards adopted in May 2008 and used in all Texas English classes today). 

The appointment was for three years, and I attended  meetings in 2015 and 2016.  I gave my feedback in various forms in 2016 and 2017.

My background is as follows:
*Employed in public schools for 31 years
*Teaching Areas:  English ( major), Reading Specialization ( M. A. from UTSA), Biology ( minor)
*Taught at High School level 22 years
*Taught at Middle School level eight years
*San Antonio College Employment 25 years, some concurrent with public school employment
Adjunct instructor freshman level
Taught developmental reading for 23 years
Taught Integrated Reading and Writing Skills for last three years at San    Antonio College career

I would like to share some of my observations and conclusions while serving on the High School ELAR/TEKS revision committee:

When I first arrived at the September 2015 meeting with ALL of the ELAR/TEKS Revision Committee members in a large room, the new strands (framework) were being pushed and the leaders were already getting ready to vote on them.  I voiced my objections to the whole roomful of people, about one hundred,  that the new strand names did away with specificity.  That fell on deaf ears. The decision to create a Collaboration strand appeared to be almost a done deal.  (Blurring specificity seems to be an ongoing goal of Type #2, Common Core-compliant proponents).

In addition, at this initial meeting, I explained to my colleagues at the table why a Collaboration strand wasn’t productive in the classroom, since one or two students end up doing all the work and the whole group gets the credit. The continued justification for the importance of the Collaboration strand (often repeated) was, “Teachers need to teach collaboration correctly and the experts speak highly of it.” 

After teaching for nearly fifty years, I know, for a fact, collaboration does not work except in limited doses in the classroom. It destroys individual thinking and promotes group think where most students just say “whatever…let’s get this over with.”

Later on, at the last meeting of the writing team, some members mentioned a study from Harvard that supposedly justified having a stand-alone Collaboration strand in the new ELAR/TEKS.  Another member of our team decided to look up the Harvard study and announced that it did NOT support collaboration in the workplace.  Instead, the authors of the study stated that only a few of the employees ended up carrying the load (as I had previously noted) and those employees got burned out. As a result, the bosses put even more work on them because of the meritorious performance in the past.  (Link to Harvard study posted at end of my email)

 

Next , let me describe some of the actual meetings with my HS ELAR/TEKS Team.  The meetings were long and laborious. The TEA facilitator and team facilitators used different colored fonts to indicate what was being left out, added, or reworded from the present HS ELAR TEKS. The process was achieved by a power point presentation, long rolls of paper on the wall with all kinds of subject content statements in the TEKS elements (SE’s) changed or reworded.  Rarely if ever was the present ELAR/TEKS (adopted in May 2008 – traditional content) mentioned, referenced, or shown side-by-side with the revisions.

 

The entire process was convoluted, cloudy, and frustrating to me.  However, the other members seemed not to be bothered by this at all.  It was definitely unclear to the uninitiated, of whom I was a party of one. Therefore, out of sheer frustration by not being able to decipher what was being specifically revised, changed, substituted, and/or deleted, I spent long hours doing a side-by-side comparison on my own.  I discovered the following: Four pages of explicit, grade-level specific SE’s had been LEFT OUT of the English I, November 2015, Revision; and 3 ½ pages of explicit, grade-level specific SE’s had been LEFT OUT of the English II, November 2015 revision.

The lost SE’s (to which I referred in the above paragraph) are in the May 2008 ELAR/TEKS document and are required to be taught in Texas public schools today.  Finding what exactly disappeared was key, whether reworded or deleted.  Reworking invariably leads to loss of specificity. The constant process of rewording, deleting, and adding continued throughout all the meetings. The clarity of the process did not improve.

Here is a description of the attitudes and makeup of the members of my HS ELAR/TEKS committee.  There were 15 original members, most of whom were in various and sundry ELAR specialized positions.  Four or five dropped out for unknown reasons.  One quit coming who had told me, “It doesn’t make any difference what we say anyway.” Few of the ones left were actually high school classroom teachers, but a select few aggressively controlled the group.

 

Obviously the leaders of the group were in favor of Common Core-compliant, Type #2 instruction. They knew the latest “educationese” lingo, knew how to manipulate, and knew their roles. Frequently they introduced these new terms and acted like everybody else knew them.  Again, I stress, nothing I ever suggested was all right with them. They worked together to shun me and to denigrate my opinions.  Fortunately I knew their strategy and remained strong. The process they used is called the “Delphi Method,” employed to break down dissenters.  Interestingly enough, they attacked me personally with negative comments during the last hour of the last meeting!  These people never gave up. 

 

Another method my committee members employed very effectively was the use of scattered change agents within the other grade levels.  They tried to convince other grade levels that the high school ELAR/TEKS team’s ideas were absolutely the best. They fanned out among the other grade levels and utilized these change agents already in place to help advance their agenda.  I was present in those meetings and watched this whole process. Again my comments were ignored or considered to be useless. Various members of my committee criticized other grade levels for not falling in line. It was obvious this was an orchestrated effort, well thought out and planned.

Conclusions:  I don’t know who “stacked” these ELAR / TEKS committees; but they were “stacked,” especially the high school. It was unfair and biased. They had worked together in tandem, as far as I could tell. The Common Core-compliant, Type #2 instructional method was to be implemented, and this was their goal. I had done some research beforehand and was fairly familiar with some of the Delphi strategies. I remain amazed at how little the present 2008 ELAR/TEKS document was ever mentioned.  It was clear the intent of our group’s leaders was to obliterate that document even though the charge from the Texas State Board of Education had been to review the present 2008 ELAR/TEKS – not rewrite it.

My own teaching observations:

Common Core-compliant teaching has crept into nearly all levels of public schools in numerous ways in Texas.  The so-called “experts” have pushed their flawed theories to graduating teachers; school districts are now being given “free” computer programs and computers from the proponents of Common Core.  It is an enticing carrot to districts to get free instructional materials. However, these programs many times do not match the Type #1 traditional SE’s as found in the present 2008 ELAR/TEKS.

 

My developmental reading classes at San Antonio College (SAC) were full of students one to three years behind.  I brought them up to level to be able to take regular college courses in one or two semesters.  These students were not slow, but they simply had not been taught the elements of reading comprehension. They were unable to find main ideas, sequence, draw inferences, etc.  The elements of comprehension have not changed.  However, they are not being taught and reinforced.  I encountered “feelings,” and disorganized, disjointed thinking. 

 

Once the students had received proper instruction, they were able to finish SAC and either move into a specialized job or go on to a four-year college. They were eager to learn and get a job and make money. They were not rich or privileged, but they were very ambitious and eager.  I enjoyed those years of helping these freshmen very much.  Then, approximately four years ago, the developmental reading program was changed, and reading and writing were combined. I suppose this was done statewide in the community colleges.  In my opinion, this change exposed the damage that years of Common Core-compliant teaching had accomplished.  Students could read fairly well but could not even write a decent sentence, much less a paragraph. (Texting has not helped!) 

 

I decided to start my SAC course with grammar basics.  Few knew anything about use of commas, complete sentences, or paragraph organization. They were unable to express themselves coherently in written form.  I graded hundreds of paragraphs and marked the grammar errors. 

 

One of the activities that I did with my classes was to give them a three-question survey, asking them what they liked best and least during the semester.  Surprisingly, I had many tell me the grammar part was the best because they had never learned proper usage.  These college freshmen were average or a bit below average, but they should have been able to write a coherent one-half page paragraph.

Questions: What exactly are these college freshmen actually reading in high school?  What do they do with the written word?  Are they writing coherent papers in school, and how are they being graded?  Are teachers requiring written work?

Last year was the first year since I retired from the public schools that I have not taught at SAC. I think nearly 50 years is long enough!

Thank you for reading this letter.  Please let me know if you have any questions. I did fill out a survey at the end of all of our ELAR/TEKS meetings and shared it with the Texas Commissioner of Education.  I included some of the same observations I have given to you.

Sincerely,

Paula Moore, San Antonio, Texas

 

=======
Harvard study referenced in my letter:

Jan. – Feb. 2016 Issue, “Collaboration Overload,” by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant, “Harvard Business Review,

https://hbr.org/2016/01/collaborative-overload

 

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