23 April 2006

The Thin Pencil Line

The issue of "Academic Freedom" is a big one in my district right now. I think part of it stems from the pushback against teaching to standards. The other part is that this district has a history of letting everyone do their own thing, and now that we're trying to establish some commonalities, people are confused.

State law here in Washington basically says that a teacher has to teach what they are directed to teach. The teachers in our district who are claiming that they won't use the adopted curriculum materials and/or will define their course however they see fit have no protection in case law. Our jobs are about student learning---not teacher entertainment. The "academic freedom" part really comes in terms of how you approach the course: teaching methods, engagement strategies, etc.

I get to walk this fine line tomorrow with a group of seventh grade science teachers. Standards for that grade level and curriculum materials have been identified and adopted by the school board. Our next goal is to map out the year for students: what standards are addressed when and which activities will best allow students to demonstrate their learning. This will be an ongoing process throughout next year, but I hope we'll end up with a useful document for teachers: a reference to the key areas of the curriculum and assessment. Instruction? That makes the line fuzzy, but we'll probably list a few tips and leave it.

The secondary math specialist in Curriculum is really struggling to get most teachers on board with the new curriculum that has been adopted. I think that I haven't because the new materials aren't a drastic departure and also because this mapping work is something teachers have asked to do. It didn't come from me nor the administration. They are the ones who most want to have some common language about what we do with students. I have buy-in from every school: one teacher per grade level has committed to making the work happen. I think that's amazing. I'm glad to have their help as we trip that fine line fantastic.

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