Common Core curricula that schools across the city have adopted this year at the behest of the Department of Education are not ready for prime time, according to exasperated teachers who have been trying to implement the new programs.
The DOE-recommended ReadyGEN by commercial vendor NCS Pearson Inc. and GO Math! by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which were purchased by some three-quarters of the city’s elementary schools, are untested, unrealistically paced and assume too much background knowledge, teachers report.
Middle school programs are similarly difficult to use, they say. There is evidence that the Pearson curricula were assembled in haste, with numerous typos, grammatical errors and pages out of order. The company has not even finished the later modules.
“Basically, we’re the guinea pigs for their new program,” said Nerland Jeanniton, a 5th-grade teacher at PS 115 in Brooklyn. “At my school, there are excellent teachers and they are not easily stressed. But they are saying, ‘I never felt like this. I don’t know what to do.’”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the problems with the new curricula have compounded the frustration that teachers felt with the long delays in receiving the curricula in the first place.
“The shift to the new Common Core Learning Standards needs a carefully thought-out process that includes the provision of ongoing professional development for educators, the selection of high-quality new curricula aligned to the standards and the delivery of the new teaching materials to educators in time for them to properly prepare to use them,” said Mulgrew. “That hasn’t happened in New York City.”
Not getting the help
Teachers are not getting the help they need, said UFT Vice President for Education Catalina Fortino. “Teachers need ongoing support at the ground level. They need feedback and coaching as they try to make sense of the new curricula, create lessons and implement the different components,” she said. And yet, she said, the DOE and the networks have left schools on their own.
Instead, they have referred teachers to websites or 200-page binders. “Are you serious? I’m not reading that,” said Leslie Ann Jones, a 5th-grade teacher at PS 158 in Brooklyn. “Right now I need to know what I’m going to do in front of these children.”
A teacher who attended an off-site training for CMP3, Pearson’s middle school math curriculum, said the session was “more like a pitch. We didn’t really get into content.” Teachers in the room finally stopped the presenter and asked him to demonstrate how to use CMP3. “The vibe in the room became tense,” she recalled, as the presenter acknowledged that the pacing calendar for the program was unrealistic and the program was unfinished.
‘I want my children to succeed’
Principals are counseling teachers to use their best judgment when the new curricula make unsustainable leaps. “My principal is trying to work with us,” said Veronica Wilensky, who teaches 4th grade at PS 346 in Brooklyn. “But with GO Math!, the pacing is outrageous. They go under the assumption that the students in your class have certain background knowledge, but they don’t. And they just threw it at them.” She and her colleagues have turned to an earlier curriculum to help students master the math.
Heidi Dowling, a veteran kindergarten teacher at PS 399 in central Brooklyn, said what has troubled her most about ReadyGEN is that it doesn’t teach the scaffolding skills that students need.
“There is nowhere they are teaching them writing — how to make a word, a sentence,” she said. Some of her children come in not knowing how to hold a pencil. “And you want me to talk about character development and sequencing? You haven’t left me any time to teach, ‘this is a B; this is how you form it,’” she said. “I want my children to succeed. ReadyGEN is not meeting their needs.”
Susan Adams, a kindergarten teacher at PS 8 in Staten Island, said ReadyGEN’s writing journal, especially the drawing activities, are “educationally and developmentally inappropriate.” The children are asked to draw pictures of words like “rushed,” “swayed” and “shallow.” “It’s horrendous,” said Adams. “They can’t draw a verb or a distance. Not in kindergarten.”
At the higher grades, Code X, Scholastic’s middle school literacy curriculum, again fails to scaffold instruction, cramming too many skills into a lesson, according to Jennee Coleman, who teaches 6th grade at CS 211 in the Bronx.
“It seems like whoever wrote it never taught reading,” she said. In one lesson, students are supposed to summarize, identify key ideas, draw conclusions and make inferences. “I like the text for its complexity,” Coleman said, “but especially with different levels, any teacher worth her salt knows you can’t teach all that at once.”
Set up to fail?
Teachers are doubly worried because they will be evaluated on student test results this year. The UFT has called for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences for state tests until the implementation problems with the new curricula have been resolved. But State Education Commissioner John King has refused to back away from tying student promotion and teacher evaluations to the tests, despite widespread calls for breathing room.
For teachers, especially those who are untenured, it’s frightening.
“It’s frustrating and scary because it is tied to my livelihood,” said Brandon Melendez, a probationary teacher at PS 143 in Queens. “It feels like we’re being set up to fail.”