Wednesday, March 26, 2008

C-3P-Ow--Editorial by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Maybe we should just fire all the teachers. If a faction of the State Board of Education gets its way, we won't need teachers any more. What we'll need is "classroom facilitators," and we should be able to get them to work for even less than we pay teachers.

Come to think of it, robots might do the job. On Day 73 of the school year, they'd just play a recording of exactly what the state board says the students are supposed to be told on Day 73, and that would be it. Automation -- that's the key.

Don't laugh. We're heading in that direction.

Today, a board subcommittee will consider a revision to state curriculum standards for English, language arts and reading instruction in grades K-12. The full board will take a preliminary vote on the standards Thursday, with a final vote set for next month.

A team of Texas teachers named by the board spent almost three years compiling a set of curriculum standards, but that's not what the board will consider. Board Chairman Don McLeroy, who has been in his post for all of four months, says that "nobody" liked what the teachers put together.

Rather, the board will vote on a set of standards developed by a facilitator. Doesn't that just warm your heart?

This is very important stuff. The curriculum standards adopted by the board become enshrined as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The TEKS determine what criteria are used in developing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests. Kids in some grades can't move to the next grade unless they pass the TAKS tests (with some exceptions), and no one can get a high school diploma without passing TAKS.

The teachers have a number of objections to the standards that will be considered by the board. Kylene Beers of Houston, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English, wrote to board members saying that the proposals don't place enough emphasis on teaching reading comprehension, give no attention to media literacy, over-emphasize grammar taught in isolation and lack enough multicultural literature.

But the loudest objection has been to the inclusion in the standards of something that Texas does not currently have: a state-adopted reading list. It's not that the teachers think the books on the list are bad -- in fact, they're all good, and most teachers use them. But once the state starts mandating a list, it becomes a limit on teachers' freedom to pick the best tools to use for teaching the unique students in front of them.

Texas public school students are a diverse group. A book that might grab the interest of a sixth-grade class in a minority neighborhood of Fort Worth might not be the best to use in suburban Southlake or the Rio Grande Valley.

That's where school district administrators, principals and teachers come in. They need the freedom to tailor their work to the needs of their own students, who should be learning the skill of reading more than what was said in any particular book.

Curriculum standards should outline the concepts that are to be taught and give clear, achievable objectives to guide the work of teachers during each school year. But for goodness' sake, teachers are not robots. If they are forced to act like they are, Texas education will be the worse for it.

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