Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reform Reading in Montgomery County MD

 Parents in Montgomery County, MD are already worried about the apparent demise of appropriately challenging elementary school math classes. A new article in the Montgomery County Gazette presents reasons for similar concerns about reading classes:

Engrossed in the picture book “Grandpa Comes to Stay,” second-grader Jake Barreto hardly acted like a student with specific marching orders.
A picture book for 2nd graders?

Perhaps instruction is "differentiated," with different students reading different books. But it sure doesn't look that way. Illustrating the article is a picture of a teacher standing up in front of an electronic Pomethean Board facing what looks like an entire class. The caption describes the teacher as "conduct[ing] a reading lesson under the new curriculum."

The new curriculum, "one of the largest academic initiatives in the Montgomery County Public Schools," is ominously entitled Curriculum 2.0:
Curriculum 2.0 is billed by the school system as a way to teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It stresses the mastery of material over the quantity studied, and integrates more subjects, like science and social studies, into lesson plans for math and English.
...
Curriculum 2.0 functions like an inverted pyramid, with the broadest concepts at the top and daily and weekly objectives and tasks on the bottom. At the top are the critical thinking, creative thinking, and academic skills the school system has adapted from the Common Core standards.
As an example of first grade "critical thinking" skills, the article cites "identifying attributes of an object." As for academic skills, it cites "Collaboration." Collaboration? Here are both goals in action:
Using an electronic Promethean board, Stroud quizzed pupils on the three key details that helped describe lions in the book, and asked them to identify a topic sentence. They also had to work in groups to identify the big paws and teeth that made the lions leonine.
The article doesn't give examples of "creative thinking," so one can only imagine what these look like.

Lower down on Curriculum 2.0's pyramid are "unifying questions," for example, "How can asking questions or solving problems in different ways help you make sense of ideas?"

Specific "reading objectives" help students answer this question. In the case of 2nd grade Jake and his picture book, the reading objective was "to identify with a character’s perspective." (Jake's answer to this one was "I think they had a good time.") The math objective was "to compare 3-digit numbers using '<'"

The article notes that Curriculum 2.0 "is based on the national academic standards, which have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia called the Common Core State Standards." It's also completely at odds not only with what makes reading interesting, but also with what recent cognitive science has shown about the domain-specificity of "critical thinking" skills. What all this amounts to, then, is very bad news for our latest elementary school students, and yet another cautionary tale about the Common Core Standards.

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