As far as Chris Reilly is concerned, the curriculum modules being implemented across New York state through the Common Core Learning Standards are in dire need of improvement.
Reilly, president of the Jamestown Teachers Association at Jamestown Public Schools, made this abundantly clear when speaking to New York state Education Commissioner John King during a public forum held at the Jamestown High School auditorium Dec. 4.
"We, as an association, recognize the need to raise the bar and do things differently. We get that part, we embrace that part and we have been working our tails off to achieve that part," Reilly told King and approximately 1,000 attendees of the forum.
"But it hasn't been easy," he continued. "The expectations of the Common Core are oftentimes unclear. Modules designed to assist teachers in implementing the Common Core are inadequate, inappropriate and laced with errors. Teachers should not have to check (www.engageny.org) to be alerted to errors found in modules. It's unsettling when good, veteran teachers consistently question the modules and their inappropriateness. If I, as a teacher, planned in this fashion and was this prepared to deliver my lessons, I would no doubt find myself (rated to be) 'ineffective.'"
Reilly went on to cite examples of inappropriate age-related material, such as asking kindergartners - in their second month of schooling - to explain photosynthesis, followed by a lesson on Richard Nixon while "only two students knew that Barack Obama is our current president."
In talking with JPS teachers at the elementary level, Reilly said the content of the modules is consistently being called into question.
"In addition to the examples I gave (at the forum), there are many religious references and lessons that people are uncomfortable with, and an introduction to George Washington Carver in kindergarten - who kids then confuse with George Washington," Reilly said.
He said teachers at all grade levels have reported constant talk of war and violence in their lesson plans. He said second-graders have already learned about ancient Greek and Roman warriors, and are now learning about the War of 1812. In seventh grade, students read a story in which people were tied to trees and shot. Fifth-graders are reading about human rights challenges in third-world countries, and a third-grade story referenced Al-Qaeda sharpshooters on the rooftops of buildings.
"There are too many references to violence when the same points could be made using different stories and subject matter," Reilly said, quoting another teacher. "Do second-graders really need to learn about the War of 1812? How much will they really remember, or are they just going to remember that there has always been war? There are plenty of peaceful things that they could learn that could make them understand their community better, and create local connections for them."
As for his own thoughts on what can be done to "clean up" the modules, Reilly said there needs to be a comprehensive view of what is already in place.
"I hear different opinions as to whether or not we just attempt to fix the errors and tweak some things, or whether or not we need to overhaul the entire system," he said. "We hear the commissioner and others say that the modules were 'created by teachers,' which implies that we then have no right to complain. But we don't know who was called on to complete them, and what exactly they were charged with doing. What I do know is that I hear constantly about all of the problems. If the goals are to improve student achievement and to improve student test scores, then the materials designed to assist in this effort should be extremely well designed."
Despite these and many other concerns expressed by teachers and parents across the state, King has remained steadfast in his "unwavering" commitment to the expectations set forth by the Common Core standards.
"Frankly, I don't think there is an alternative to (the Common Core)," King said in a press conference prior to the Dec. 4 forum. "Those who argue for lower standards and that we should expect less from students, I frankly think that they are wrong and that their view risks undermining the long-term prosperity of our state and our country. We need to ensure that our students graduate ready to work at the next level, whether that be college or career, and the Common Core is the path to get there."