Monday, June 02, 2008

Texas Fixin' to Teach English Good1

This is a story in the works for one my paying gigs. If you have experience with this sort of thing, consider this fishing for background.

Anyway. The Texas State Board of Ed has been working on new language instruction standards, and things have gotten ugly:

    State Board of Education members, casting aside months of work by English teachers across the state, tentatively approved new curriculum standards Thursday for English and reading classes that will be used in Texas schools for the next decade.

    Led by its social conservative bloc, the board rejected a curriculum proposal written and backed by several teacher associations – including those representing English teachers – and instead adopted a Washington, D.C.-based consultant's plan that changes the way grammar is taught.

I've done a little reading on the language wars but was unaware parties would resort to political intrigue:
    Some board members accused teacher groups of hijacking the process by pushing their own document instead of the one tentatively approved by the board.

    "The process has become a joke and a mockery," said Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond , calling it "contaminated and a circus."
So here is what all this is about. The conservatives on the Board want a specific instruction on grammar and the teachers want grammar instruction to be part of writing instruction. And the English teachers want the standards to include reading comprehension instruction and the Board does not. The Board, being the Board, is winning. At least one teachers group has the drafts up on their website.

So here's the thing. None of the stories talk about whether there is any research on any of these approaches. Even the Fordham story I got this from talks about research. Both parties seem to be working more based on politically-based assumptions.

The idea of teaching grammar only in the context of writing is counterintutive. It sounds like teaching the fingering on a flute only in the context of playing a concerto or telling someone to make eggs Benedict without knowing how to make a Hollandaise sauce.

On the other hand, watching a daughter learning to read and doing well with a curriculum that teaches her strategies for reading comprehension, it's hard to see who would object. But I can see how that some might dismiss it as mollycoddling PC stuff.

So I know some teachers happen by on occasion. If you can shed any light on all this, I'll be in your debt.

1A hattip to a friend who came up with the title during a conversation today. She's actually blogger Keith Woodruff's wife Marisol. And by the way if you want to mean on me for stereotyping Texans I'll point out that Appolonia is actually from Texas and you will go on about the long history of self-hating Texans and I will weep silently until you go away.


Eric said...

This nicely illustrates why the Roy Romer, Bob Taft Ed in 08 initiative is deeply flawed.

Texas has statewide text adoption, so standards need to be detailed enough to pick the winning texts. Otherwise it might be enough to insist the students read with comprehension and write with clarity and correct spelling and grammar.

Of course, if we wanted to prepare students for foreign language instruction, we might insist they diagram sentences so they learn to tell a subject from a direct object and a clause from a phrase, but where would new teachers learn that skill?

Standards processes become political. Ed in 08 predicating education reform on standards is a proven failure from the Clinton era--sooos last millennium.

Just wait til Texas gets to evolution... Maybe they'll have TV commercials:

Cowboy: This science lesson comes from an ed school in New York City.
More Cowboys: New York City! Get a rope!

Keith Woodruff said...

Marisol? That's pretty damn good.