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September 26, 2013

School 'modules' draw flak at meeting

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Teachers and parents in the Oneonta City School District addressed their concerns about so-called modules being used as part of a state initiative at Wednesday’s regular Board of Education meeting. More than 80 people attended the meeting at Riverside Elementary School.

Several superintendents earlier in the day discussed their experiences of using the scripted lesson plans designed to help students learn the state Common Core curriculum. All had some degree of difficulty, but none had people speaking out at a public meeting on the issue.

The modules are being rolled out in grades K-8 for English Language Arts and math. Other grades and subjects will have a similar treatment as the state tries to meet the requirements of the Common Core. The curriculum has been adopted by more than 40 states in a federal effort to have students learning the same information.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ken Sider, a third-grade teacher at Valleyview Elementary School said the modules provide minute-by-minute directions that teachers don’t have the authority to change.

“We have become a tool” as the modules have “stripped the joys from learning,” he said. Students are no longer allowed to be “spontaneous or unique,” he said. “We are here to ask the board to loosen the stranglehold these modules have on our children.”

Several other parents and teachers expressed their concerns about the modules and the detrimental effect they were having on students during the public comment sections of the meeting.

Oneonta City School District Superintendent Joseph Yelich, who started in the district in July, said in response to Sider that he had similar concerns, and that he has expressed those concerns to officials at the state Department of Education. He said he’s ready to give flexibility to teachers in following the modules as he and his administrators search for long-term solutions.

“I don’t want to lose creativity in the classroom” or the ability to tap into the “intellectual capability” of teachers, he said.

In order to give people an opportunity for a direct conversation, he circulated a list around the room asking audience members to include their name and contact information.

“I will listen to ideas” and put them into place when possible, he said. He wants the dialogue to be ongoing so as the district aligns its practices with the Common Core, it can fine-tune how that’s done.

After the meeting, ninth-grade English teacher Susan Murphy, who shared with the board specific examples of where the proposed module for her grade is lacking, said she was impressed with Yelich’s knowledge and willingness to listen.

“He hears us,” she said. “Collectively, we can arrive at a solution”

Other superintendents were called earlier in the day to discuss their experience with the modules.

Sidney Superintendent Bill Christensen said he was struggling with them. They are overly scripted, without taking into account the differences among students, he said.

While they are helpful, “we will have to supplement them” to be successful. “I think the state is rolling it out a little too quickly.”

Franklin Superintendent Gordon Daniels said because the modules are detailed, teachers may feel their academic freedom is being a little challenged. But to meet these concerns, the district is allowing them some flexibility, as long as the material is covered.

At Laurens Central School, Superintendent Romona Wenck said the modules are supposed to be tools that teachers use to help students succeed on state tests. While the Common Core is important, the state is making “way too many changes, way too fast, at the expense of of the taxpayers.”

Getting teachers teachers trained on the modules is a huge task, she said. It takes teachers out of the classroom, which is a big expense.

“We are doing the best we can,” she said.

Delaware Academy Central School Superintendent Jason Thompson said: “We have to work with the state with the anticipation they will make the appropriate adjustments.”

Teachers are allowed to use the relevant parts of the modules, along with other valuable programs, he said.

“A great teacher never relies solely on the text,” he said. “You need to pull from multiple sources,” and teachers are doing that. They are using the modules as a tool, he said.