Teacher Ken Sider’s not-to-miss perspective on classroom modules

Speech delivered by Ken Sider at Hartwick College’s panel titled “A Report from the Trenches: How the High Stakes Reform Agenda Impacts Stakeholders,” on September 23, 2013.

I’ve been asked to participate tonight to offer the perspective of an elementary school teacher. While I have primarily been a teacher of kindergarten through third grade, I’ll also convey what I see and hear occurring in K-5 classrooms. This year, the administrators of the Oneonta City School District are requiring all elementary school teachers to use daily instructional scripts called modules. Modules are instruction manuals written by distant corporations, not local teachers, and they now dominate the school day.

A module is a day-by-day, minute-by-minute, step-by-step direction manual that actually forces teachers to teach with a stopwatch. Topics of study and teaching methods are determined by the module, and teachers have no authority to change either the content or the procedures. Modules prevent a teacher from shaping the learning environment in ways that are responsive to children’s interests, passions, and, most importantly, their individual needs. These automated teaching methods eliminate the possibility for wonder, curiosity, and self-direction.

I have been asked what my students are losing because of the modules. To illustrate the loss, I would like to share a story from one of my recent third grade classes:

In 2012, during a social studies unit on Kenya, my students and I read a newspaper article from Mombasa about two children walking to school when they found what they thought were stray kittens. They took the kittens to a game warden at nearby Tsavo National Park who identified the kittens as striped hyena cubs. This incident became big news for my students because the cubs were cute, and as we learned, the striped hyena is nearing endangered species status. Due to their enthusiasm, we found and watched a news program about the hyena cubs on the Kenya Television News channel.

That same afternoon, at a weekly class meeting held on the rug in the reading corner, Jasmine asked us if the striped hyena will still be alive when she is a grown up. Despite all eyes on me, I had no answer. No one knew the answer. Jasmine’s question established a turning point in our year. This unexpected conversation changed the mood and shifted our class’s attention to the plight of the striped hyena. The class immediately decided to take action. They split up into groups and did online research. They searched for information at home and during the school day. We expected to find an organization dedicated to protecting and saving the striped hyena, but we found none.

We did happen upon an article written by a scientist named Dr. Aaron Wagner, an evolutionary and behavior ecologist at Michigan State University. Dr. Wagner’s article in the scientific, peer-reviewed journal Animal Behaviour, was daunting, but with highlighters and patience, we managed to learn a lot from his field work in Kenya.

Since Dr. Wagner’s phone number was posted on his website, the kids wanted to call him and ask how to save the striped hyena. Four volunteers wrote a script and rehearsed their parts. After calculating differences in time zones, we chose our moment and called. Amazingly, Dr. Wagner actually answered his phone. We were shocked, but not as shocked as Dr. Wagner. The kids introduced themselves, asked questions, and before hanging up got him to agree to Skype with us. One week later, wearing homemade Save the Striped Hyena buttons and prepared with their questions, the kids gathered in our school library to interview Dr. Wagner at his office on the MSU campus. Thanks to his advice, they spent the rest of the year petitioning the Wildlife Conservation Society to devote resources and attention to saving the striped hyena.

This was done through their tireless work which integrated math, ELA, science, and social studies in a seamless student-driven curriculum. The third graders campaigned for the striped hyena by writing, designing, and distributing flyers, creating a mass email campaign reaching hundreds of recipients, holding informational school-wide assemblies in 2 elementary schools, posting a glog at Glogster.com, and raising awareness through their own drumming performance at SUNY Oneonta. Through the kids’ efforts, our project was noticed by the Beacon Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a National Science Foundation Center dedicated to studying biological and evolutionary processes of species worldwide. Our class was featured on their website and we had the good fortune of consulting online with Dr. Danielle Whittaker, director of the Beacon Center.

Looking back on that year, people might expect me to say that my students’ hard work, willingness to immerse themselves in academic topics well beyond their educational level, adroit handling of interdisciplinary content, activism, and impressive collaborative skills surprised me, but that would be incorrect. I was not surprised. These traits are revealed when students are encouraged to apply what they are learning to real-life issues of their own concern. In fact, in this environment, compassion, industriousness, creativity, and democracy flourish.

So to answer the question: What is lost in my classroom now that I must follow a script? I have an answer: Every element of the story I shared with you will be lost.

Modules force children to endure tiresome repetition, a single instructional approach that assumes all children learn at the same pace, and very long periods of sitting with little or no mental and physical breaks. Kindergarteners now sit for daily 50 minute math sessions and 120 minutes of English Language Arts. First graders have one hour skill sessions followed by one hour listening sessions, and another 90 minutes of math modules. Children are frustrated – some to tears, while others are acting out. And this frustration does not end at 3:00. The modules include mandatory daily homework, even for little ones.

Many teachers have been reduced to tears, not just because of the burden of learning this new, bewildering instructional system, but because we have become the tools that are stripping the joy from learning.

This unprecedented turn to hyper-standardization in our classrooms stunts the blossoming of humanity in its multiple and vital forms. A mass-produced corporate classroom culture is anti-intellectual and sabotages opportunities for meaningful engagement as learners and critical citizens in a democracy.

Today’s educational reform movement focuses on technical skills and tests. Schooling should enable students to achieve mastery and understand bodies of knowledge presented to them, but it is more important for students to understand how knowledge and skills will inform and support them in their everyday lives.Education is more than skill and drill and test scores. Students deserve to be educated to transcend the base expectations of the current political and educational leadership in our city, state, and country. Students are not merely commodities or consumers or data points or future employees, they are children, but now they are being silenced through a classroom socialized for passive engagement. Students cannot be spontaneous or unique, rather they only participate when given the teacher’s scripted prompt and respond within the limitations and parameters of the module.

And teachers are being silenced, too. Student data and test scores are being misused in a system of teacher accountability that intimidates and threatens teachers and principals alike, while earning unimaginable profits for corporations. A teacher evaluation system based largely on test scores is an abuse of data which intends to fire teachers for low test scores without regard for tenure, the historic legal practice of protecting teachers from capricious decisions and shifting political winds.

It is an abuse of data when my third graders endure 6 hours of pre-testing in September, 6 hours of post-testing in June, another 6 hours of state testing in the spring, plus pre and post testing in PE, Art, Library and Music. This accounting does not include the countless hours of practice tests that begin in some schools in September, and others in January. This, by the way, is the testing model at every grade level K-6. It is an abuse of the public trust when we as caretakers and educators fill children’s days with rigid, dull, artificial experiences that are as much tedious as they are laborious. And all of this is carried out with disregard for individual students’ needs.

Currently in the Oneonta City School District, the modules have forced many changes. Kindergarteners are not making apple sauce and reading about Johnny Appleseed, instead they are studying life in colonial towns. First graders are not learning about Oneonta and our neighborhoods, instead they are studying Ancient Egypt and Ancient South American culture. Second graders are not visiting City Hall or tapping maple trees, instead they are learning about Mesopotamia, Ancient Chinese civilization, and the War of 1812.

While not yet published, Social Studies and Science modules are coming next. This means the entire school day will be scripted. Sadly, many districts are responding not by pushing back and defending their students, but by eliminating recess, the arts, and special events.

Teachers are outraged and upset, but also intimidated and threatened. In this frightening moment in America’s educational history, teachers have been vilified. Sadly, corporate leaders, bureaucrats, and politicians cast teachers as the problem, and worse, as being resistant to their so-called high-quality academic reform. For this reason, teachers do not comprise an adequate first line of defense for our children. Teachers need parents and grandparents, friends and relatives, to join us in speaking up for children. We must return local control to our schools. It is not for the teachers’ benefit, but for the children who are subjected to a system that views them as 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s.

When you hear about efforts to reclaim our community’s classrooms, I hope you will join us in standing up, but more importantly, in speaking out to restore a quality education that respects and nurtures our students.

Oneonta’s children deserve better.

Ken Sider is a 3rd grade teacher at Valleyview Elementary School in Oneonta, NY. He has developed interdisciplinary programs that bring together service learning with the arts in ways that enable children to interact meaningfully with academic content and issues of social justice. Mr. Sider has been awarded ten Arts Education Grants from the NYS Council on the Arts. In addition to being an adjunct instructor at SUNY Oneonta’s Department of Elementary Education and Reading, he is a doctoral candidate at SUNY Albany’s Department of Educational Theory and Practice and is preparing to conduct his dissertation study on race and identity in teacher education. Mr. Sider received the 2011 New York African Studies Association’s Distinguished Teacher Award.

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101 thoughts on “Teacher Ken Sider’s not-to-miss perspective on classroom modules

  1. Heartbreaking! As a newly retired teacher, I am fighting this top-down, corporate driven devastation of our public schools and our profession with the same passion I brought to my teaching. I am now free to speak out without fear of punishment or firing. We do not have the money to fight Gates, Walton and Pearson Inc. dollar for dollar, but we have the ferocity of parents who know that our children and grandchildren’s futures are at stake. We will win!

    • just crazy stuff….people who institute these changes do not spend time with children…..I would never conform to this! Patrice

    • Common Core Standards do NOT dictate – it appears Oneonta has chosen to dictate. From the Common Core Standards “These Standards do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods. For example, just because topic A appears before topic B in the standards for a given grade, it does not necessarily mean that topic A must be taught before topic B. A teacher might prefer to teach topic B before topic A, or might choose to highlight connections by teaching topic A and topic B at the same time. Or, a teacher might prefer to teach a topic of his or her own choosing that leads, as a byproduct, to students reaching the standards for topics A and B.”

      • When, as an educator, I am told to teach by using a script, that is dictating. Common Core modules give a time frame for each activity and states “teacher will say” followed by students will….” If common core outlined what topics should be taught and allowed the teachers to develop their own units and lessons, learning would be relevant and meaningful. Respectfully, Mr. Finnegan, I disagree with your statement that common core standards do not dictate, they absolutely do.

      • I am sorry. The New York State Curricula and Standards that formed the backbone of instruction for years was nothing to be ashamed of and served the students and teachers well. Even with some of the questionable changes the State Education Dept. guidelines and testing system worked well. Why the attempt to fix something that was not broken? Just let teachers teach and let local administrators do their jobs to remove those not deemed satisfactory in the first three years of employment with tenure to protect academic freedom.

      • I agree with Paul. The Common Core Standards do not dictate. In my school district in Ohio, we are allowed to set up our own curriculum maps and teach these standards in any way we choose. Mr. Sider would be encouraged to teach in the way he describes above. States and districts are deciding to buy and use scripted lessons. States are deciding to do this intensive testing. Just because it is happening at the same time the Common Core is being adopted in many states does not mean it is dictated or even suggested by the Common Core Standards.

  2. Thanks for speaking up.. when they look back at this it will be shameful what they have turned educators into. No one person learns the same nor one teacher teaches the same and that is what makes learning fun and exciting. Education should not be written and pushed out to the mainstream without some forethought. In technology we call that “Bleeding Edge” and most of the time it fails miserably. Thanks again for speaking up.

  3. I sit here with tears in my eyes as I read this. I am so frustrated by the state of education in our country today, but at least I understand the greed that is accompanying this corporate destruction of the educational system and the marginalization of teachers and administrators from the discourse. I understand evil. What I don’t understand are my co-workers who are also sipping the Kool-Aid? They are the biggest stumbling block to changing this mess and I just don’t understand them.

    • I think teachers & their administrators are terrified – kind of like the Jewish citizens in Germany during WWII. Everyone is afraid to speak up – that they will be considered “not a team player” or uncooperative…. I taught reading for 35 years and several attempts were made to “change” education. One of the biggest failures was IBM but they found out that teaching was more than programmed learning and computers – you still need a real teacher to facilitate the learning – to teach the child. The list is too long to write all the failures here suffice to say it was never teacher failure…. I am hoping this too will pass……

  4. Right now, I’m wishing there was a “Love It” choice! This is so true of what’s happening in classrooms all over NYS as teachers are either mandated to use the modules, or are trying to use the modules in hopes of improving test scores.
    I know teachers who literally CONSIDERED resigning and have been so defeated and deflated by last year’s test scores.
    Not only is authentic, meaningful learning taken away – but these modules set unrealistic time “goals”. I tried Module 1 Lesson 1 MATH in my classroom today, and covered just about half of it. Now, I feel behind and wonder what my students will lose………..
    Worse yet – the modules are full of errors and typos – and nearly daily we get email updates linking us to the “changes”.
    This is a HOT MESS and we MUST speak up for the love of the children!

  5. Thank you for speaking up. Teachers should be left to teach. Isn’t that what we’ve paid thousands in trainings and certifications to do? Without incorporating student & teacher interest in learning, there is no meaning.

  6. I am in shock. This is the first I have heard about this because I do not have children in the school system, yet. I am, however expecting my first child and am very scared that this is what he or she may face. I want my child to have the wonderful, fun, unique, educational and positive experience, like I had while attending Greater Plains. Children SHOULD be allowed to be kids and learn at the same time. I completely agree with this entire article and will support the decision to take back our schools in any way I can!!!

      • Yess I was going to comment below but see it here..We chose home schooling with my youngest, after witnessing him struggling and hating the school experience(I wish I had done it from the get-go)…doing “modules” much the same way as Ken Sider describes in the above article…(at the time I did not have a college degree, although I have a Bachelors Degree…done the Home School Way, now, myself) my son flourished in this “open” way of educating, not even being aware sometimes that it was in fact school work. He joined Scouting, Church choir, bowling, swimteam, a wood working club, joined a traveling basketball team and skate/snow boarding summer and winter,to round things out we took part in a traveling museum that appeared at our local library monthly…and we held a “cooking school” at our home with several other boys who were interested in cooking, this we did with instruction from our local Co-operative Extension…He loved it…I loved it…There were parents who worked, who had children taking part with others(neighbor/friends)who were in line with their own home-schooling beliefs, helping out during work hours and they themselves (homework) homeschooling at home in the evenings…My son went on mission trips with our church, and we took part in a group who met at our church that met the needs for math skills I did not poses…Sooo many HAPPY children getting together which delineated the lack of “socialization” so many parents are worried about their kids missing out on w/the homeschooling experience. I just want to share an experience that blew me away…At Holiday time a large group of parents in our home school group wanted to celebrate in a meaningful way for this time of year. We ahd many different “denominations” represented in our groups…Christian, Quaker, Jewish, Methodist etc…We chose a neutral space to hold the Celebration…without getting into the whole thing… I just want to relay my over all experience of a peaceful joining of so many individuals in such serenity…no one running the show everyone sharing the work, older children entertaining the younger ones…AND there was no one flicking the lights on/off nor loud clapping of hands for attention. Everything just flowed together so beautifully…

    • sadly..our Government is already overrun by Corporations and Lobbyists…now Peirson has got its corporate greedy hands on the school system….as a parent, i am outraged and will have my kids Opt out of the state testing

  7. Bravo! My husband and I are teachers and we are feeling a loss.
    The loss of educational freedom.
    The loss of being creative and connecting with our students on a personal level.

    We are the next target group to be discriminated against…just like african americans, people with AIDS, gay marriage. All of those groups fought for their rights…we teachers need to band together and fight for ours too. It is scary, I know…but if not now, when?

  8. I left the classroom a few years ago to raise my children. I am so sickened by this not for me, as I doubt I will ever return to my profession that no longer exists, but for my children. It has me contemplating himeschooling nearly every day. This terrifies me, but I can’t let them be “educated” in such a way that there is no joy and no wonder. This makes me ill. What can we do to save our schools?

    • Ant- It looks like a teacher never stopped and really taught you, definitely not an English teacher. I don’t know any teacher that “teach about 4hrs per day” as you so eloquently said. I know teachers that are at school an hour before the children arrive and take home plies of homework to grade, not to mention lesson plans and after school activities, and coaching, and mentoring. Lots of people are quick to take up action against teachers, and mind you there are always a few bad apples in the bunch. but as a whole our society has no idea what a teacher does day to day in our schools

    • ant-obviously you are pretty clueless regarding what actually happens in a classroom; before you condemn so ineloquently, why not volunteer for a day in a primary, elementary, middle school, or high school classroom….for a WHOLE day and see first hand what it’s really like.
      I

    • Ant, when was the last time you were in a school? I teach five classes a day, and typically put in a nine hour day. My “breaks” are spent grading papers, contacting parents, updating my curriculum, and helping students! Not only was your statement ignorant, but your grammar, spelling, and punctuation were horrible as well.

  9. I am disgusted with NYS and what is going on with my kids education’s. So much so that we are looking into moving out of state. Count me in for anything I can do to fight what is happening!!!!

    • Kristy this isn’t a NYS thing. This is core curriculum that has been adopted by 45 of the 50 states. The worst part about this is Private Schools do NOT have to follow core and continue to educate children. I know I don’t have to say this but guess who goes to Private Schools? From the President’s kids on down for those that can afford it. Government schools have been failing for many years but like everything else the government runs they can’t seem to figure it out. This common core slipped in our district with notices that some of the curriculum would be changing. Ba this is a huge turd with educators, parents and administrators. We were actually told that they understand that kids in 2nd & 3rd grade will miss out and have an extremely difficult time and probably miss a few years of education to frustration. In the same breath you hear that change is good.

      • We moved from NY to CO and live in what used to be one of the best districts in CO… Until educational reform took over. It’s everywhere and we all need to speak up and have ourselves heard or it will not go away. There are corporations investing big money in things like school board elections to get the “right” people in to decision making positions, and the decisions they are making are exactly what this eloquent and courageous teacher is battling.

      • Mark~ I normally do not comment on blogs or posts, but I do just want to clear up a misleading comment in your reply. You made a negative connotation about private schools that is unfair to those of us who teach in and send our children to private schools. As the kindergarten teacher in a private Christian school, I make a huge financial sacrifice to send my children there to school. With my current salary at a whopping $17,900 (having five years of teaching experience and TWO master’s degrees), I also pay roughly $440 per month (directly out of that salary) for my two children to attend. Next year we will add in our third child into the preschool program making it $660 per month out of our family budget. Between my husband and I, our annual salary before paying tuition and taxes is $56,000. Hardly a politician’s salary! We value the small classrooms and freedom that the teachers have to educate our children in a child-focused environment full of teachers who are free to be creative and engaging with our children, who also teach there for the tiny salary that I do! The families who send their children to our school also have made the committment to do without some of the luxuries of life and make the sacrifices necessary to pay the tuition, knowing the true value in that decision. There are no politicians or wealthy families in our school, just those willing to sacrifice a little for the good of their children. I would encourage you to look into some of your local private schools if you are truly concerned about Common Core and its negative impact on your children.

      • Stacy my apologies and thank you for pointing out the way that it sounds. My point to private schools was not about the school itself, more of the fact that people who make decisions for others tend not to drink from the same water fountain. I firmly believe that private and charter schools should be more main street and affordable so we can put our children into a competitive arena for learning. I applaud you and your husband for making the sacrifices so your children can have a better education than what we are seeing in the public sector. In our area we really don’t have any Private Christian Schools, but we are looking very seriously at home schooling both of our girls. Thanks again for pointing out my statement.

      • I homeschooled for 3.5 years. It worked well for a while, but now with twin toddlers and a 9th grader, I can’t do it all. Something had to give.

        She’s in a Charter School now. The time we spent homeschooling her was well worth it. She stands out as one who is well-spoken, well-read, well-behaved and isn’t as interested in assimilating to the darker side of teen culture. She has also tested remarkably, even though we never, ever did anything geared toward tests.

        If we could afford Private Christian right now, we would do it in a heartbeat, as even though she’s in Charter School it’s still Common Core driven and frankly I don’t love what I see.

        With the twins, if we can’t do Private, we will homeschool without reservations. Homeschool has morphed into such a vibrant and engaging movement. It’s not the old anti-social stereotype of yesteryear. There are so many options.

  10. This is exactly why I left teaching. I refuse to abuse children in the name of corporate greed. Instead, I fight. I empower parents to OPT OUT of testing. I empower teachers to do what is right for their students rather than follow these scripted, developmentally inappropriate standards and curricula. I calm parents of Special Ed students who are now acting out or hurting themselves out of frustration because teachers are being forced to teach at a level the students cannot understand. This is criminal and it has to stop. If we want to know why children are failing in higher education we need only look to No Child Left Behind. That is when this mess began. Parents, stand up. Protect your children and the teachers who were called to this profession, not for a paycheck or fame, but to touch lives.

    • I’m a little alarmed by the “corporate greed” meme up here. Who sets the agenda and writes the checks to the corporations? That’s who you need to target. If there were no checks being written, the corporations wouldn’t be standing there with their hands out.

      I understand Common Core had heavy corporate influence… I’ve looked into that. But, who let that happen? And who enticed the States to adopt it (with promises of money)?

      • BIG money – you better believe it!! Pearson isn’t even an American company and they are raking in big bucks and there is supposed to be an investigation into possible bribes taken by some of the decision makers in our government who jumped on this bandwagon….. They are selling teachers and our children out in return have accepted trips and have been wined and dined to see that this program is the “best” program for our schools – scripted modules and next they will replace teachers with robots who can read the scripted lessons and we will be sure that every child gets an equal “education”.

      • Pearson was the biggest campaign contributor to our inept governor Cuomo….kinda makes you think doesn’t it……damn strait big money is now involved in our kids education…….

  11. The day I have to teach from a script is the day I find a new career. I am so offended that my knowledge and expertise is considered so unreliable that counties would want to mandate the very words I speak. If I can no longer learn, create, and plan engaging lessons for my kids then I am no longer a teacher but a robot.

    • Fortunately, and eventually, alternatives will percolate up to the surface. There are so many ways to educate nowdays… co-ops, university model schools, private, etc. The options are no longer public vs. private. Mark my words… paths will emerge for those who really want to teach. I just don’t think we’ll see those paths in traditional public education.

  12. This brought tears to my eyes. Tears for the memory of teaching for real life, tears for the kids who won’t be able to do these things. Let students engage in meaningful exciting endeavors and they will be ready to be contributors to our society.

  13. This is exactly the reason I left teaching! Not only had I been involuntarily transferred to an elementary post from my beloved middle school, but, once there, I finally put the pieces together of why my middle school kiddos were suffering from such a dearth of writing skills once they reached the eighth grade level. Every minute of my day in that elementary school was scripted, and any hope I had of bringing to the table some of my more meaningful and results-driven teaching methods, my rather unorthodox but highly effective tricks for getting kids to love reading and writing, or any number of the phenomenal ideas that were so well received in the years before I was moved were stomped out with the administrative boot. I just couldn’t drink the Kool-Aid any longer. Props to you for sticking with it!

  14. Oswego, NY school district are also using these modules. After sitting through open house night in our middle school I am even more opposed to these modules. Exactly what Mr. Sider said, “Each child learns at a different pace”. How sad for teachers and children, children that have struggled in the past will become more lost and left behind. Our teacher’s no longer have time to stop and help a child, they must rush on to the next module. Time to take back our schools!!!

  15. This opinion is woefully misinformed, inaccurate, and divisive. Which corporations have authored the modules? Much of the work has been authored for teachers, by teachers. Furthermore, if all teachers had the knowledge, skill, and desire to develop rich, rigorous units of instruction as described, they wouldn’t need curriculum models to ensure that all students have equal access to quality content and learning experiences.

    • Sadly, these modules are a disservice to the kids in NY but also to the supporters of the Common Core. Many teachers have expressed their support for the vision of the CCSS, but have been completely turned off by these poorly written and poorly implemented curriculum modules. Schools are imposing them on students out of utter fear, dooming them to failure; no reason to ever institute educational changes. This demonstrates another epic failure on the part of John King and SED to communicate with parents, teachers, admin, and school boards across the state. He and his minions at SED are quickly becoming a liability for the politicians in Albany. It’s time for a transition at SED. Step aside, resign, hand over power to the next in line (Slentz?); it really doesn’t matter how, but it’s time for King to go. I can no longer support SED’s vision of the CCSS after last year’s tests, these new modules, and the total disregard for the collateral damage that they cause.

    • I call BS … not only on your reply, but on your title. This is NOT school improvement. This is not a “woefully misinformed, inaccurate, and divisive opinion”. This is real life. This is what our children are facing.

      My child, who has been above grade level for the last few years is barely getting by. It’s not because she doesn’t study, it’s not because she doesn’t pay attention, and it’s certainly not because she doesn’t have parents who not only encourage her but work with her – it’s the new common core.

      Your generalized statements that “if all teachers had the knowledge, skill, and desire to develop rich, rigorous units of instruction as described, they wouldn’t need curriculum models to ensure that all students have equal access to quality content and learning experiences” is out of line. Yes, granted, there are always a few bad apples in the bunch, but to imply that the teaching profession as a whole is uneducated, unskilled and unmotivated is ridiculous and far-reaching. I know many teachers that know their students almost as well as their own parents (and sadly, in some cases, better). I know many teachers (including Mr. Sider) who go out of their way to promote not only learning in a fun manner, but other enriching experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have. How many teachers would take the time to change their entire curriculum to provide their students with the experience that his had? Furthermore, I know many good (great!) teachers who are just as saddened by this change to the common core and feel horribly for their students.

      Judging an entire classroom, or teacher for that matter, by the testing scores of their class or school is providing false results. What about the factors beyond the teachers control? For example, what if “Johnny” comes to school one day and doesn’t WANT to take the test? So instead of reading the questions and providing the appropriate answers he randomly fills in the bubbles? What about the students who don’t take the test at all? What about the student who needs just that little extra bit of help from his / her one on one aide, but can’t have it because of the criteria of the test? Or the frustrated student who decides they’re DONE and not even finishing it? We don’t take these things in to consideration when calculating scores and scorning teachers for a poorly performing classroom. We’re too focused, as a society, on the numbers.

      And it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the students…the children. The ones who learn with completely different methods and at totally different paces. We see this in the adult world (visual learners vs hands on learners), why not recognize that this is a trait shown as children as well?!

      I have to go – I have to go do everything else that I needed to do while helping my daughter work on the 1 page, 1 HOUR homework assignment that my daughter barely understood and I only got through because I downloaded the entire curriculum for review. This is not learning. This is not educational. This is just sad.

      • But who writes the checks? That is where the blame lies, and it also lies with the politicans who bribed states to adopt Common Core with promises of more money. Corporations are not to blame.

      • I’ve done enough research for long enough to know that politicians are simply responding to what corporate entities have been demanding for over a decade. Politicians are evil, to be sure, but they are merely puppets.

      • good teachers, and I mean good teachers, are always teaching their students….if a teacher sees a student at a store or a ballgame or out and about, a good teacher will greet the student, and by just being there and bein friendly will teach the student good manners if nothing else….teachers have put themselves in the spotlight and must realize, and good teachers do realize and appreciate this….and the module system will not and does not produce better smarter students

      • there is enough blame to go around ….many members of my family, including myself, and many good friends have been in the public education field for decades….we have seen the decay up close and personal….I am so glad my children have all proceeded through the education system, but I fear for my grandkids

      • Just a note. Expeditionary Learning, which was awarded a contract by New York State Education Department, developed their materials under the terms of a contract with the Public Consulting Group, which has, as one of its primary business partners, Pearson Education.

    • NYS awarded $12.9M in contracts to private vendors to develop pre-kindergarten through fifth grade curricular materials with associated professional development aligned to the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards.
      http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/ELAMathCurricula.SEDAwardsContractsForDevelopment.htm
      The standards themselves didn’t even have much input from teachers.
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/choking-on-the-common-core-standards/2011/12/02/gIQAG6cpPO_blog.html
      It seems to me that School Improvement is the one who is misinformed.

    • Are you kidding me? You probably think the common core was initiated by and created by teachers as well. I would love for you to name for me one teacher who has more than 3 years of public school teaching experience who helped author either the modules put out by PCG (hired by NYS and a close business partner of Pearson) or Odell Education whose authors were either charter school teachers, college professors, or mostly members of the Odell Management team. NY had rigorous standards, but some accounts some of the best in the country. What we have now is crap. Giant step backwards. You keep believing that the education system is the problem. Take every student living below the poverty line out of the equation and our students scores rival those of every nation in the world. Add out impoverished in and they plummet because they account for 25% of our students. We are attacking a phantom created by companies that want to profit from a problem that does not exist. Remember, there are billions of dollars in “solving” the problems of education, but not one red cent to be made in solving poverty

      • One of the Odell management team is my high school ex-boyfriend. My first love. Very, very intelligent. His mother was one of my teachers and a public school educator for 30+ years. She also serves on the management team. I am shocked both of them are so “for” Common Core, as they are both passionate about the human spirit, the mind and education. I am shocked they cannot see through the disaster that Common Core is, unless they are being patient and waiting out the storm.

    • I congratulate Mr. Sider for taking a stand.

      Which part of Mr. Sider’s curriculum did you find to be lacking in “rich, rigorous instruction. His teaching sounded like it was student and real world centered. He engaged his students, which doesn’t seem like it is a high priority in the new teaching/learning standards. It seems like the new mandate is focused on creating robots who don’t think.

      When math for 2nd graders starts looking like this: “Solve the facts by recording make ten solutions with number bonds. Then draw a line connecting each one with the number sentence showing how you added the remaining ones to ten.” And 4th graders are dealing with this trash: “Fourth grade students in Vermilion Parish, La. were given a homework assignment that included words like “Po Pimp” and “mobstaz,” but school officials said the worksheet was age appropriate based on an education website affiliated with Common Core education standards”, it leaves me thinking that our education system is in serious, serious trouble.

      Is the goal to create compliant, robotic workers/humans for the future, or creative thinkers who can solve challenges that life presents? It scares me to think what the ultimate goal is for this educational mandate. It certainly isn’t in favor of developing a child to his/her fullest potential.

      I don’t know where you are coming from with your comments, but they are so far off base and suspect. Mr. Sider is in the trenches so he knows first hand how the mandates are affecting his teaching and his students.

      I’d love to know the background on the writing of these mandates. Who paid to push them through the government channels. Maybe you know. Maybe you have been paid to publish this post.

    • Cowardly. School improvement? What kind of name is that? I don’t know of any teachers being asked to formulate these tests. Pearson creates the common core tests that don’t test the curriculum. It’s some perverse intelligence test cloaked in an assessment that is significantly above the the cognitive level of the students who take them. Teachers don’t need scripted lessons-but politicians do. I don’t care what other countries are doing. My child is in school to learn.

    • I would have to disagree about the new standards being written by teachers. There were hardy any educators involved in the process and many that were refused to sign off on the standards.

    • This sounds like a politician speaking – and you are the one who is misinformed – go into the classrooms and listen to the lessons which teachers are mandated to use without any chance to intervene or explain to students who are unable to understand the vocabulary of the lessons. Now that Kindergarten and 1st graders are being asked to learn what used to be 6th grade material. Pearson in England is getting much of the money – it is not even an American company and they have no interest in the education of American children. They only care about the hundreds of thousands of dollars they can bleed from gullible American people when the politicians buy into programs in return for trips to elegant hotels across the “pond”.

  16. School Improvement – you are wrong. Name your sources.
    Because I can come back in about 10 minutes chock full of links for folks to click on to see exactly who is behind CC.

  17. School Improvement. Clearly you have not had the opportunity to see the modules. The modules clearly print the companies that have crafted them. Off the top of my head I can tell you that O’Dell is an education foundation putting out the Modules for 9-12. Core Knowledge puts out the Modules for K-3. This company is based in Virginia. Makes me wonder if New York really won in the RTTT grant. It is possible that these companies employ people with teaching licenses,but they were not classroom teachers. Teachers we given an extremely short comment period but their comments were soundly ignored anyway as evidenced by their rapid release.

  18. I just retired at age 55. I hadn’t planned to retire at 55, however, it seemed to make sense in light of the current climate. I was a special education teacher. Imagine trying to support special needs students with the current Common Core Standards and modules. All of the customized lessons and supports for these students that I loved to develop are now next to impossible to implement given the instructional timeframe and data requirements. I figure that I’m better off subbing. It’s so sad though.

  19. So, lets get this straight: this jerk is “teaching” social studies to 2nd graders and rather than teaching basic civics such as this is what a government is, these are the types iof governments, this is what a tax is, etc.. he is instead reading to his class about cats in Africa. He further goes on to use his class of 6 year old kids to shoulder the guilt of the evils of all man kind by killing off those really cure cats. He then proceeds to use these kids and class time to watch news programs about endangered hyenas instead of teaching them civics. In effect, he robbed students of learning what he was obligated to teach them by the ta payers and the parents of the community and used it as an opportunity to push a political agenda and brainwash 6 year old’s into saving the world, one cat at a time. AND THEN HE PUBLICLY COMPLAINS ABOUT THOSE IN AUTHORITY IMPOSING A TIGHT CURRICULA AND FORCING HIM TO ACTUALLY TEACH SOCIAL STUDIES IN SOCIAL STUDIES CLASS? This guy just made the case for the administrators in Albany to impose a forced caricula.

    • While I basically agree with you, we should clarify a fact, he was teaching 3rd grade, 9 year olds, not 6 year olds. Otherwise, I think your assessment was spot on. I too have witnessed first hand this very organic teaching style and noticed a couple things the teacher doesn’t mention. First, for example, while the class was split into two groups to research, there are probably a couple kids who really lead the charge in interest, and there are at least a couple kids who simply follow along, passively watching and barely participating. But the teacher is content to group them, since as a group progress is being made, just not by all. However, since the teacher and part of the class are so excited, the non-hyena loving kids will fall into a very bad role of being passive students. That is a very difficult mindset to change. Second, when these kids go on to 4th grade and the 4th grade teacher attempts to teach the fourth grade curriculum, the small group of kids from the hyena class will be dreadfully behind the kids from standard education, non-hyena 3rd grade classes. However, since the 4th grade teacher was not in class with the hyena kids to witness the lack of curriculum teaching, the 4th grade teacher will have no choice but to group these poor kids as remedial. They will suck up a disproportionate amount of valuable time with the classroom aide being taught the bare minimum of what they missed in order to move on to 4th grade assignments. The whole class loses as the kids who did learn 3rd grade are slowed down by the kids who need remedial help. These mistakes take years to correct. Third, accountability. When the 4th grade teacher is giving low marks to the hyena super stars, parents and administrators take notice of the 4th grade teacher. Why are the hyena super stars now unsuccessful? Johnny and Maria were in the newspaper last year, why are they now crying at night about remedial homework. Extra-curricula projects can be a lot of fun, but they should be extra. . .after the standards are taught.

      • I disagree with both of you, as most people who have previously posted likely do as well. However, you are entitled to your opinion even if I think it is highly misinformed. I can however make one point…nowhere in his article did it say the students were broken into just two groups. It reads to me that the children, in small groups, researched in school and as individuals, researched at home. As for the rest of your comments, again, you are entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. I applaud this teacher’s methods and his ability to ignite such spark in his students. I am saddened that those opportunities have been removed from his classroom and all of the others who have to utilize this type of program.

      • Kerry, I misread, the article did say groups, not two groups. The rest of my opinion is based on first hand experience from the perspective of the parent, who has to help their children navigate a new teaching style and teachers interests each year. As a parent with 28 work-year of kids in public school, I have seen a lot of teachers and even a couple teaching fads. I have listened as elementary teachers stated outright that ‘they don’t care for science’, so they didn’t teach the fourth grade curriculum. I have had 5th grade teachers tell me to my face that they only assign homework because it is required, and that they just throw it away, ungraded. I had a third grade teacher tell me they were really busy after school with their own kids, so they liked to use the 2 hours after lunch as workbook time, so they could grade papers, update their grade book and prepare for the next day. I applaud this teachers enthusiasm for a cause and if he wanted to form an after school, ‘save the hyena’ club, at least one of my kids would have joined and donated every nickel of his piggy bank.
        For the record, I do not support micro-management, pre-scripted teaching. It is boring and demoralizing. I do however support curriculum standards. I’ll parent my kids by teaching them to make applesauce and taking them out in the community. I rely on the school to teach grammar, social studies, math, science, writing, etc. on a schedule so that if we move to a new school they aren’t behind.
        My husband doesn’t go to work each day expecting to be fulfilled by his company or customers. He is not tenured, and he doesn’t have a union. He shows up and does his job every day, as laid out by his employer. I get up at 5:30 every morning to start breakfast, do laundry, drive carpools and clean, not because it is creative or fulfilling, but because it is necessary to my children’s needs. If I can work an interesting conversation into the carpool ride, great; if we can try some international breakfast foods, also great; but the basic schedule must be followed.
        I expect the same from teachers. Just saying.

    • What garbage can did you come out of? Have you EVER been in a classroom? What he was talking about is teaching “moments” and that is how children learn. For you to come out like this and attack him and what went on is just showing your ignorance of classrooms and teaching. He is spot on. You are NOT. You sound like a troll. Go out and learn something. Volunteer in a classroom before you go out and spew your venom. I was in the public schools/classrooms for 32 years. I know what I am talking about. CC is nonsense. Someone is targeting and trashing our children and our schools. We should all fight against it. John King’s children go to very expensive private schools. While he claims they do CC, how large are the student populations in his childrens’ classrooms.?

  20. LOVE THIS!!! Now how many parents will respond? Here is the address of the person to whom we should write: Dr. John B. King, Jr.
    Commissioner of Education and
    President of the University of the State of New York
    New York State Education Department
    89 Washington Avenue
    Albany, New York 12234

    I’m writing. I hope you will too, if you are a parent.

  21. I, too, am wholeheartedly in favor of inquiry-based education. But there are some inaccuracies being perpetuated here. First of all, the ELA 3-8 modules were written by teachers,not by a corporation. (I can’t speak to the ELA K-2 or the math.) Those teachers were organized by a nonprofit (Expeditionary Learning) whose whole mission is about inquiry-based education. I have seen them transform schools who were still ruled by a whole-class, basal approach to education. If you look closely at the modules, they are all about inciting kids’ enthusiasm and spirit of inquiry about topics and texts.

    Secondly, at least for the ELA 3-8 modules, the idea of teaching “with a stopwatch” would be completely antithetical to their intent. As is often said at NYSEd, the modules were created partly as coaching guides, and it is up to districts to decide how to use them –they can “adopt, adapt, or ignore.”

    I agree that the emphasis on testing is completely out of whack. But I think there is a lot of interesting content here that we could be more curious about as parents and teachers, rather than gearing up right away for more “education wars.”

    • I am seeing that the message may have been delivered badly. There is value in some of the content-but the message has been that the script takes precedent over the profession and in-class experience, and that the pedagogy is beyond questioning or adjustment based on real student needs. That might not have ever been the intent. Combine the delivery of the modules with the persistent disrespect by “reformers” and public judgement with secretly scored tests…I fully understand painting with a wide anger brush.

    • Thank you!! I was about to post something similar. Reading through the EL modules should be like watching a master teacher deliver a lesson. Read it, internalize the intent, and teach it to meet your student’s needs if your district has adopted the modules. Otherwise, use the modules as your book study this year or as part of a PLC–study the arc, the activities, the types of reading and writing that are aligned to the CCLS–and create your own.

  22. Shame on you, Ken Sider! Shame on all the nay-sayers.
    Nothing speaks louder to those in power than that which does not work.
    Why must we argue and fight? Fear? Know-It-All-ism? Really? You tell us what is the secret to making New York in the top 3 states of Super Educators! Better yet, tell us how to make our country a Super Educational Power!
    Something is missing and no one has the answer. Truth be told! If there was, that person would be very wealthy, like curing cancer!
    I’m tired of teachers throwing themselves under the bus with their “opinions” and “expertise” and “look at me” stories of success! Get real!
    This country is a disaster in terms of social and family values! Thank you to all the commenters who prove my point.
    Skapegoating and name-calling something before it’s been tried is something we try to teach children NOT to do. And yet, here we are bad-mouthing and hiding behind our “experience” and “education” as if that proves wrong-doing on others’ behalf.
    Guess what? Using evidence and facts to support your opinion is Shift Number 1 in the Common Core State Standards! Hhhhmmm? Did I miss which line of text you’re referring to?
    Stop treating our children like babies! And whining about not picking battles with our kids! When we hold them up higher, chances are, they rise! The Arts, creativity, exploration, discovery, “developmentally-ready,” yada-yada! Nothing is an exact science! And, where does it say that schools have to provide every inch of a human-being’s growth? Come on! There are 365 days in a year. Of the “only” 180 days that we see them, it is less than 7 hours a day! Less than the amount of time that they spend sleeping! Who are we kidding here if we think that we can teach kids without some kind of regulation to use time effectively? To be direct, focused, and with a common end-result. I am very disheartened, to say the least to admit that I am a public school teacher during these trials and tribulations. Tired of my cohorts rallying support to “stick it to the man.” Grow up! Put on your big-girl panties and let it go!

    • Michele, I’m hoping that your heartfelt and confused comments, abounding in wild claims and exclamations, are a product of the time at which you wrote them (midnight). Yelling louder — even in print — does not create a cogent argument. (Yes, there are exact sciences; education is not one of them.)

      You are, however, on target with your estimate of the time teachers have to influence children; parents are children’s first and most influential teachers, yet the professional educators are the only ones held accountable.

      • Maureen,
        Scolding doesn’t just happen at midnight. I would say, “does it?” but it might be too loud for hypocritical ears.
        I meant education is not an exact science when I said education is not an exact science.
        Good day!

    • Unless you teach students with disabilities who have cried all day because they can no longer learn in school… they r frustrated and becoming aggressive to themselves and other children. No child learns the same..i dont just speak as a teacher..i speak as a parent of a gifted child who is melting down nightly because of the stress…and not being able to be a thinker and creative… but having to be robotic. You must not have children

  23. It’s easy to blame the module makers and the creators of the CCLS. However, the real blame (at least in this case) belongs at the district level. As a teacher in the district I have witnessed firsthand the lack of a common district wide curriculm. In Oneonta especially in the four (and more recently three) elementary schools it has always been an every building and an every man for himself attitude when it came to curriculm. To be honest had I not gone myself to other teachers to find out what exactly the curriculm was when I began I could have taught anything I wanted and no one would have been the wiser. My students could have spent the entire year learning about hyenas or Australia or whatever other topic I felt interested them. The people of the OCDS give the impression that things were perfect before these modules were introduced. That is far from the truth. The adoption of these modules from the district level was a way for district “leaders” to pass the blame to someone else when it came to aligning the curriculum (especially across the elementary level). Talking with friends and colleagues from other districts showcasing the district’a failing even more since other districts have been and are allowing their teachers who teach the modules to have some flexibility. When I mentioned that the modules were introduced to our staff as scripts, they laughed and said their trainers were very careful to point out the modules should not be used as scripts! To me as an insider the real failure lies with the so-called leaders in the district who never took the steps to align curriculum before now!

    • An “every man for himself attitude” when it comes to curriculum flies in the face of what research tells us should be a best practice in districts. Marzano identifies a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” as having the greatest impact on student achievement. On the teacher level, it’s use of quality teaching strategies.

      What you describe happened in your classroom, by and large, sounds wonderful, exciting, inspiring, and probably long-lasting. However, I also suspect this sort of real-world, project-based learning is not the norm in your district because it is not the norm in most districts. You seem to be one of those teachers others should aspire to be, but mostly they just resent while they rely on the basal, the superteacherworksheets.com resources, or whatever other workbook has been purchased for their use. That’s the point of the modules, to show teachers who don’t know any other way that there is a way to teach students with high quality texts, standards-aligned activities, research-based strategies, and total participation techniques.

  24. Is this in response to Ken Sider or a commenter because no where did I read Mr. Sider knocking the Common Core. Mr. Sider is expressing his disdain for corporate developed modules that strip autonomy from the classroom teacher. I teach math and science in an urban school in Massachusetts, we don’t have modules in these subject areas YET. Modules are in place for English Language Arts. Guess who’s scores are the highest? The veteran teachers who know what’s best for each individual student and disregards the modules. These teachers and students are actually producing less work in quantity but better work in quality. People often confuse academic rigor with the volume of work being tackled. Corporations look at classrooms and can’t believe how little is being produced and because they are successful corporations that take on multiple projects with efficiency they expect the schools and classrooms to do the same. The point these corporations are missing is that this efficiency they are able to execute is done by adults that have LEARNED it. By making many mistakes and redoing one project, students learn to become more efficient. Another point the corporations miss is that they are able to choose who they hire and fire (albeit firing is not so simple), schools and classrooms get every and any child, no matter how limited their background is or if they come from a high risk household. The corporations should try staffing their company with whoever walks through their doors and then try developing a product suitable to bring to market. They’ll quickly become familiar with a chapter in a special book, the title of the book doesn’t matter but it’s Chapter 11 they’ll commit to memory.

  25. Thank you everyone for your thoughtful and courteous (usually) comments. I have, in the past, tried to be in the habit of responding to each of my readers/ commentators, but the sheer abundance of in-depth comments here makes it impossible. So, I just wanted to take a bit of time to say thank you for contributing to this conversation and for your time in reading Ken Sider’s story.

  26. Ken Sided is an excellent teacher who taught my daughter in kindergarten and third grade. Her excitement of what she would learn during school days was brought home in interesting and exiting stories, that even her younger sister was bewildered by! It is teachers like him that make a difference in our children’s lives and not these cooperations who I am not sure what their point is still…

  27. I agree with every bit of your post. I currently substitute on occasion and I am a retired teacher and also used to train for a reading program that was labeled by many as “scripted.” (however, not nearly so scripted as what is being shoved down the throats of NYS teachers.) This got me into classrooms in many districts around our state, Ken. I saw the teachers that these CC lessons were written for and because of. Those people are not you, me, or most of the teachers I have ever had the honor of teaching alongside. They are the product of inept college training, even more inept supervision, and little or no introspection. These teachers never have asked themselves, “Do I like what I am doing?” or “Am I doing a good job?” Because they surely would have answered a resounding NO to both questions. Yet, here we are on the brink of driving out the OTHER teachers. The best of the best are frustrated and hogtied by this BS. It is SO wrong.
    (By the way I just this week “taught” lessons 2, 3, and 4 of math module 2 for 2nd grade.)

    • YES!!! This has more to do with districts’ lack of responsiveness to differences in teaching ability and training, as far as I can tell.

  28. Pearson is big business! Just business! Bill gates and his money is tied in to Pearson. A child makes all 100 s on a state test made. By Pearson. Mother questions how did that happen. Pearson is contacted and says it was scored correctly but bubbles look like An adult bubbled in??! No accountability for Pearson . Denied that they were in error?? I am put out with testing! The next thing we see will be Pearson selling stock on the market! Big business. They also sell their textbooks. We are using Pearson math and reading! Looks like conflict of interest to me!

  29. Pingback: Thoughts on the Modules | Modifying the Modules

  30. Pingback: What's Really Wrong With Education in the US?

  31. I ma a literacy coordinator in a town that is piloting the ELA modules in grades K-8. I have to wonder if the problem people are experiencing is really with the modules or their district’s implementation of the modules. Yes, the times indicated by the modules for each activity are off. In my district, teachers are taking two days to complete lessons, and they know this is ok. In my district, we are looking at the assessments to see if they need to be tweaked, rather than having to create our own from scratch. I can’t even imagine trying to do that. My teachers state that the children are more engaged than ever and that they love learning about all of the topics. They can’t wait to see what comes next. Teachers have the latitude to add-to or subtract-from lessons if they feel the students need it presented differently. One teacher has stated the these modules are bringing back the art of teaching. Children in kindergarten are not sitting for two hours. In fact the second part of the Listening and Learning strand is made up of extension activities and states very explicitly that the whole lesson should not be done in one sitting. Parents are saying they are so excited about what their children are learning and can not believe the discussions that are taking place at home. Teachers have stated that, regardless of common core, these lessons are fun and engaging and they feel the children are learning more than ever before. Someone tell me why that is bad.

  32. Pingback: Inappropriate Standards and the Death of Self-Discovery | The Plain Satisfactions

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