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Houston Schools' Texas-Imposed 'High Quality' Curriculum Is Crap With A Capital CRAP
But the Abbott-appointed superintendent says it's good, so it must be.
When the State of Texas seized control of the Houston Independent School District in March, firing the elected school board, and Gov. Greg Abbott appointed charter schools guy Mike Miles as the new superintendent, the pretext was that Houston’s schools were “failing” and needed an infusion of technocratic leadership and top-notch education; Miles is very big on the phrase “high-quality instruction,” which he uses like Donald Trump says “bigly.”
What Houston ISD got instead was Miles’s pet educational theory, the “New Education System,” or “NES,” even though any fool knows that’s the abbreviation for the original Nintendo Entertainment System and now half of you have the 8-bit “Super Mario” theme bouncing through your heads.
State-Run Houston Schools To Convert Libraries Into 'Discipline Centers' In Bold Audition For Dystopian Movie Setting
As we’ve detailed previously, The Brave New Houston Schools would have standardized lessons for every subject, so that third-graders in one school would be getting the same lesson as those in any other on the same day. Each class gets the same predigested PowerPoint Lesson McNugget for the first 40 minutes, then they do a “Demonstration of Learning” worksheet, and those who need help would stay the last 35 minutes of class for more work with their teachers, while those who pleased the Worksheet Gods would go to a “Team Center” in the former library to enhance their skills or even work ahead.
Day after day forever and ever.
Funny thing, though: A month and a half into the school year, the Houston Chronicle reports (gift link) that teachers are saying the lesson plans they’re required to pump into the kids’ heads each day are
riddled with errors, don’t align with state standards and include inappropriate content, forcing them to work extra, causing undue stress, and, in at least one case, contributing to them quitting HISD.
In one particular screwup earlier this month, a lesson sent to teachers for eighth-grade reading included an explicit passage about sexual abuse from Maya Angelou’s memoir Gather Together in My Name (Wonkette cut link), but it was caught and replaced before it went to students. Unfortunately, most media, including the Chronicle and others, euphemize and call the passage “sexually explicit,” which misses the point.
As Houston Public Media says, the passage was included in a “multiple-choice reading comprehension question,” and
describes a passionate, alcohol-fueled "lovemaking" encounter in a hotel between the female protagonist and an older man, according to a photo of the lesson that was posted on social media earlier this week.
Let’s make one thing clear. The passage isn’t about “lovemaking,” although the word appears in the text. It’s a rape, although Angelou doesn’t name it in the that passage because at the time, the teenaged girl she was didn’t recognize it for what it was. Readers of the first volume of her memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, will recall that after she was sexually abused as a child, Angelou was unable to speak to anyone but her brother for five years. You don’t handwave any of that away as “a sexually explicit passage.”
This is why taking passages out of context and demanding a book be banned is despicable. Even worse to throw it at eighth graders and ask them to “read and annotate” it without knowing anything more about Angelou’s life and work. That really is an obscenity.
We have to wonder what the motives were of the person who tried to include it in a “reading comprehension” lesson. Houston schools spokesperson Joseph Sam said it was due to an “isolated human error,” and Miles said in a statement that oh gosh, this was certainly not something we intended, not part of our standards, and so he had
“directed the Chief Academic Officer to review all the systems and processes related to curriculum creation to ensure that inappropriate content never gets to classrooms."
That incident led HISD to announce that the district would perform a wide review of how the daily lessons get developed and chucked out to teachers, to ensure that, as Sam put it, curriculum creators will “align on expectations and quality control for lesson plans moving forward."
To get that done, the Chronicle explains, the district recruited 32 real teachers to leave their classrooms to fix the broken curriculum, maybe. They’ll teach half days, and then spend the rest of their time
working with the curriculum department to strengthen and catch errors in lessons, leaving their students with teaching assistants and learning coaches, Miles said.
“They’re going to be able to help the curriculum department see a little bit closer, from the teacher’s perspective, what the material looks like,” he said. “They’re going to have a better eye and help us vet.”
And by golly, now that the airplane is nearing its cruising altitude, the team will for sure finish getting the wings bolted on.
The process — apparently being done on the fly, like when hungover graduate TAs throw lessons together 20 minutes before class, don’t ask how I know — is supposed to involve taking the learning objectives from the state-approved standards for each subject (that’s “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)” objectives) and then slotting in material from prepackaged curricula purchased by the district. From those sources, the curriculum writers put together lesson plans, the hallowed PowerPoint show for each class, and the demonstration of learning worksheets.
And good Crom, the problems the Chronicle turned up range from embarrassing to disgraceful:
The curriculum issues are not just limited to its alignment with state standards. Teachers and parents have been raising concerns about sexual and racial content and frequent errors, misspellings or misleading information in the lessons. One Demonstration of Learning quiz included an excerpt about healthy eating that was apparently generated by ChatGPT, according to a citation on the paper.
Teachers from one middle school, for example, said they felt uncomfortable teaching an eighth-grade lesson that included a Frederick Douglass passage in which the N-word appeared multiple times. Other readings described the lynching of a Black person, clitoral circumcision in Sudan and teenage eating disorders, which felt inappropriate for the age level, teachers said.
All things that could be taught sensitively and thoughtfully, probably, but good christ if they’re anything like that Angelou excerpt, I wouldn’t want a teacher just reading straight from the PowerPoint either.
One teacher said she has to spend hours every day correcting errors in the materials and getting ready to teach from them, even staying up to the wee hours when you add in scoring worksheets, so we suppose it’s only a matter of time until Miles requires that all lessons be taught verbatim, for excellence. On top of that, the teacher said that new materials get dumped on teachers the same day they’re supposed to be taught.
“We have to spend our outside time fixing everything they have wrong. It’s a lot,” she said. “There is no work-life balance at all. … I’m not able to be a good daughter, I’m not able to be a good friend, sister, aunt, girlfriend, because I can’t spend time with anybody because of everything I have to do.”
Well golly, if you aren’t willing to put in the work to do all this high-quality instruction, you probably shouldn’t waste time on luxuries like family, friends, or romance.
Or you could always just half-ass it like Miles has and call it “reform.”
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