Many teachers at my Title I school are beginning to openly question the decision-making surrounding the canned reading curriculum that we are mandated to teach to our students. This past week I had another teacher confess to me that she doesn’t trust the decision-making surrounding our Success For All program (SFA). The teachers were informed that they had to submit even more electronic data to the SFA Facilitator via our online server. While this shouldn’t be a huge burden, it is another requirement that takes away teachers’ planning times; and, SFA has continuously piled more and more “data tracking” duties on to the teachers. Our SFA Facilitator and Principal have heard much negative feedback from the teachers, but despite that, they continue to add more paperwork responsibilities to the teachers…so much so that teachers are beginning to wonder if it is being done on purpose.
In case you haven’t heard of SFA, they are a non-profit (with ties to Johns Hopkins) that recently received $49 million in i3 grant money to “turn around” 1100 elementary schools in 19 states with their canned, scripted reading program. Six years ago, when I first started at my Title I school, I liked what SFA offered and we were finding that our reading scores were improving with the additional hour and a half daily requirement to teach the program. What I soon learned, however, was that as our school continued to not make AYP goals, the program required teachers to work more to prepare and document the lessons and student progress. We even found that the program wasn’t keeping up with changes to our state exam questions so we had to spend hours re-writing and tweaking lessons to address those deficits. We’ve been doing “whatever it takes” to improve the learning of our students, but are finding that nothing ever seems good enough.
Right now, our school is considered a “failing school” because we have not been able to consistently bring up our test scores and make AYP. The “charter school” threat has already been dropped at a school board meeting and we are under the microscope. With that, we have seen consultant after consultant come through our doors to inform us that we just need to work harder. So, we do; but the teachers have grown tired of being told that they have more and more documentation to complete, especially for the SFA reading program.
In addition to the overkill on documentation requirements for SFA, we are seeing poor placement of kids in SFA, additional staff coming in to document teachers on their execution of the program, less training and support for new teachers of the program, etc. This year, we had several teachers who were thrown into teaching certain levels of the program but were not offered coaching or training. We have also had problems with being given incomplete materials, which is incredibly frustrating. All of this was brought up to the Principal, and a couple of changes were made, but, overall, the teaching of SFA has become more burdensome and frustrating. Many of the teachers are demoralized and question whether or not the program is being used to prompt teachers to quit or leave the school. Many also feel that the program is holding us back in our scores and have asked the Principal to get rid of it.
So, we are in that frantic “desperation” mode at our school where we are looking at the strong possibility of being turned into a charter school and many of us feel that SFA is contributing to our failure. If you think about it, if a school district wants to close a public school down or turn it into a charter, one needs to weaken the staff at the school. Too many loyal and vocal teachers could mess up one’s plans. This is why many teachers feel the canned program is being used to frustrate and spark teacher turnover. I wonder how many SFA schools have been closed down or turned into charter schools. I also wonder if the closure of SFA schools are tied to any specific charter group who swoop in and take over. Anyway, these are my own personal ponderings – doesn’t mean my thinking is correct, but I know that I do have the right to question the motives behind decisions made in public schools. I can only hope that the motives are pure. I hope that more teachers speak up. If you are experiencing similar issues in your school, I’d love to hear from you.
Oh, and to all of the “ed reformers” and folks who believe in overly scripted curriculum, try not to get too upset that I bring this question up. I’m just asking. As an educator I have every right to question curriculum that I view as subpar. Our students and teachers deserve the best.