Time to Plan Math Curriculum

Thank you, State Education Department, for releasing a memo on August 17 prioritizing the new Common Core state math standards.  The memo details which standards are “Major,” meaning they will be emphasized on the new state tests in April, and which can wait until May and June.

Now we can start planning our curriculum for the year!

Wait a minute, school started at Harlem Link two weeks ago.  When the memo came out we were already in our fourth day of staff training, and we had rolled out our curriculum units, including those for math, for the year and our instructional priorities during the first two days of that training.

We are now analyzing this Education Department memo—after all, the state test is how the effectiveness of our curriculum and our interpretation of the Common Core standards will be judged—and comparing it to the arrangements we had made when we mapped out our math standards in June.

Did the state really want us to wait until August 17 to start planning curriculum for the year?  I don’t think so, but the tone of the memo vividly illustrates the year-to-year thinking that has long plagued the system.  The memo says, “Schools and districts are encouraged to use this guidance when reviewing local curricula and in designing their Grades 3-8 instructional programs.” 

Last year one of our biggest issues as a school was that we were designing our “local curriculum” and “instructional programs” during the year, right before or while teaching them.  This frenzied approach resulted from the need to shift quickly and wholly to state and Common Core standards, coupled with our commitment to a home-grown curriculum, not relying solely on off-the-shelf, pre-packaged programs. 

I’m not writing to condemn the Education department for issuing this guidance.  Actually, it’s more than I thought we would receive, since the state has promised that henceforth state tests would be obscured and unpredictable to prevent the gaming of the system that has characterized the recent testing regime.

Instead, I’m writing to illustrate the complexity of doing genuine education reform with a sense of urgency and seriousness when, for example, the state bureaucracy fails to sets its major requirements in a timely way.

This little memo is a big window into an important shortcoming of large systems.

About Steve Evangelista

Steven Evangelista is the co-founder of Harlem Link Charter School. He is a native New Yorker with a bachelors degree in Psychology from Georgetown University and a Masters degree in Elementary Education from Bank Street College.
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