Statement Against the SpringBoard Curriculum by Lorell Morrell

(NOTE: The following statement was presented by Ms. Lorell Morrell at the June 5, 2012 Governing Board Meeting.)

The role of education is to teach students to read, think and write critically as well as to expose students to the cultural diversities of the world. This goal is best achieved through non-fictional and fictional texts which have stood the test of time. If you believe this is the goal of education, then please do not adopt SpringBoard as a required, CONSUMABLE curriculum in junior and high school English classes. At the very least please table the vote until next year when you have had the time to investigate the program further and have received more input from the teachers who will be teaching it.

One of the downsides of the SpringBoard curriculum is the high cost. Why are we even thinking about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consumable materials when we have bright highly educated professionals who have been trained in the language arts field to both write and teach their curriculum, and who could meet collaboratively with colleagues both within their schools and across the district to create a curriculum for virtually the cost of a few professional days. This would save the district thousands of dollars and allow for a curriculum which could be tailored to the students’ needs, contain the rigor which the district is seeking, and meet the Common Core standards. This was the benefit of education in Gilbert Public Schools for my older children as they were taught by teachers who offered rigorous education with authentic reading and writing.

A second downside of the SpringBoard curriculum is filling in a consumable workbook. It is heavily film based, weak in classical literature with almost no student choice anywhere in the lessons. Classical literature in its entirety (not just film clips or short examples) exposes students to complexities and beauty of language. Meaning across cultures and across time is lacking in a diet too rich with contemporary readings. After perusing the workbooks for 8th grade honors, it became apparent that students attending 9th grade honors will have read only summaries or watched films or film clips of classical literature, including The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet.

A third issue is the marketing of the curriculum. College Board flashes their shiny workbook promising “Students will be successful in AP courses and in college.” This makes perfect sense because College Board sells AP tests!

Are we really so gullible? College Board’s delivery works because it strokes the egos of we parents who are hungry for the AP class to be on Johnny’s transcript that supposedly propels him into the college of his choice. What about what student’s need? What about the kids not attending college who deserve a well-rounded education for life, not for a test?

I have been corresponding with several teachers throughout the country who have taught SpringBoard for years. Amy Sando from Douglas High School in Minden Nevada responded in an email dated May 25th: “The workbooks contain the same structure and types of activities, which would get very old for students who have to use it year after year. I got bored as a teacher using it with 3 different grade levels.” A veteran middle school teacher, Ellen Brosnahan (author of Guiding Students into Information Literacy) currently specializing in Curriculum and Instruction at Illinois State University said, in response to my inquiry about SpringBoard, “I’m very sorry to hear of any
district that is adopting SpringBoard. . . .College Board’s emphasis on getting kids ready to take the College Boards is very self-serving on their part.” She continues, “SpringBoard was a disaster in St. Charles [IL], and after spending thousands of dollars, and more importantly, subjecting the students to this weak program, the entire thing was scrapped by the end of its second year of implementation. Many teachers had already scrapped it on their own, simply closing their doors and teaching what they knew to be what was best for kids.”

I spent 45 minutes on the phone with Karen Heine, department head at Douglas High School in Minden Nevada. She raised the roof when she was told her district would be implementing this program. "If a vote was taken, one teacher, one vote, the majority of teachers would vote this product down," she said. "Many teachers were denied their right to sit on the committees and express their beliefs."

She has since been contacted by no less than 10 parents from around the country whose stories are too similar. Pilot programs seem to be far from test cases with trust broken during the adoption process between teachers and the district. My question is then, “How much power are we allowing College Board to have?” Their non-profit status does not make them some benevolent grandfather offering us an escape from our ignorance. They are making bank off of SpringBoard. We are stooges if we think otherwise.

Ms. Heine said, “I was watched like a hawk. District administration suggested I might undermine the program to prove its faults.”

She was then told to “not deviate from the curriculum in any way.”

When she followed exactly as instructed by the manual, teaching cookbook style, “In your first paragraph, write . . . In your second paragraph, write . . . “ her principal, after having her observed in her classroom said, "You’re the teacher—can’t you make this better?" Her reply was, "I was told not to augment. There is no time if I follow SpringBoard.”

She also lamented that she feared the younger teachers had lost all passion for their craft. This was echoed by Ellen Brosnahan: “I worry about young teachers who will just accept the lockstep program and never learn to teach.”

As a mother of four graduates from the Gilbert school district I know what it means to see a child thrive. I wanted my kids to love reading and writing too. So far so good. Yet somehow the sacred cow has become “uniformity” or “equanimity” in a quest to find a common English curriculum.

Can we please stop pushing toward mediocrity to accomplish this goal? It would be amazing if the district could please exhibit more support of teachers and a system that is not broken. Certainly there is a need to address the Common Core Standards. However, is this not something teachers are paid to do anyway?

It seems that an adoption of a curriculum across the district that has not been written by those who teach it, merely demoralizes both the teacher and the student. Use veteran teachers to mentor. This is part of the teacher’s professional responsibility. I suspect most teachers would welcome the opportunity to take ownership in a curriculum as well as to collaborate. These are the principles of a sound organization even outside the education field.

Every student is valuable—college bound or not. AP laden or not. Don’t make someone’s son or daughter (or teacher) be the casualty of this new-shiny-EXPENSIVE-ego-loaded toy.

Please don’t rush SpringBoard.