Standards, standards, standards

This afternoon the staff of the math department met with the superintendent, the superintendent of student learning, and the districts head math curriculum specialist.  Although I did not see the agenda, the meeting appeared to have two main purposes.  The first was for the department to have an opportunity to share with the administration what it is they need to increase their success.  The second was the administration to have a chance to make sure the department knew that although they have a new curriculum, they are expected to teach the state standards, not the content of the textbook.  This was really good for me to hear.

My current placement is the first time I’ve heard the staff at a large school mention the word “standards.”  This term was commonly used in both of the rural schools I observed in, where the math departments consisted of 1-2 people who enjoyed a great degree of control over what they taught.  It seems that in larger districts, where the teachers tend to have much less input into the textbooks that are chosen, there is less of an awareness (and thus less implementation) of the standards.  Instead, there seems to be more reliance on the district to provide things like pacing documents that outline what sections of the text should be taught over how many days, which should be skipped.  I have seen two of the these pacing documents.  While both outlined what to teach in the book, close examination revealed that the second document failed to mention standards that the text ignored.  That means that teachers who relied solely on the text would always fail to teach all of the material required by the state.  In this particular instance the section of the standards missed is the one dealing with reasoning skills – a major oversight in my view.

I wonder why it is that big-school teachers seem to be less removed from decisions?  Is it because there is no expectation that they be involved in what’s taught?  Do they feel that the district is the final authority, and that their recommendations should be followed whether they are accurate and complete or not?  Do people worry they will lose their jobs if they question such things?  Do they feel overwhelmed by overloaded classes?  Whatever the cause(s), it seems like these teachers appear, at least to some extend, to be disempowered.  I don’t know if they feel that way or not, but having spent some time in rural schools where teachers are often deeply involved in curriculum decisions, I see a real difference at these larger schools.


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