Saturday, April 28, 2007

'OPEN COURT' STILL ON TRIAL IN LAUSD: Curriculum debated as election looms

by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

April 28, 2007 Seven years after Los Angeles Unified expanded the Open Court curriculum to most campuses, the highly scripted teaching program remains controversial, with administrators, school board candidates and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa divided over its effectiveness.

Open Court provides educators with highly detailed lesson plans, classroom activities and teaching instructions for each grade level — tools that former Superintendent Roy Romer said helped reverse a decline in student achievement.

But critics say the curriculum limits teaching innovations and also stunts the development of English-language learners, who comprise about 43 percent of all students.

Villaraigosa, who is pushing hard to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District, says the results of Open Court have hit a plateau and it's time to allow teachers more creativity in their classrooms.

Even Ray Cortines, the mayor's education deputy who introduced Open Court to LAUSD when he was interim superintendent, believes it's time for a change.

"I never meant that after we got us focused on skills in reading that there shouldn't be some flexibility by teachers," Cortines said. "We have made progress and we've probably made greater progress at a faster pace than other schools, but we're so far below grade level."


Open Court, he said, doesn't allow enough time to develop vocabulary and speaking skills, which are essential for English-language learners.

But LAUSD administrators disagree, saying Open Court has a built-in flexibility that allows teachers to modify lesson plans to meet the varying needs of their students.

"There is a lot of flexibility because the teacher has to be really knowledgeable about who their students are in order to teach any kind of program. But the point is, we don't say, 'This part is too hard for them — we're going to skip it,'" said Jim Morris, superintendent of Local District 2, which encompasses the San Fernando Valley.

"That's what we want to avoid because that's how we end up having lower standards for kids."

The curriculum issue also divides the two candidates vying for a critical Valley seat in the May 15 school board election.

Incumbent Jon Lauritzen and challenger Tamar Galatzan each say teachers should have greater leeway in the classroom, but they disagree about the extent to which educators should be able to select a curriculum.

Lauritzen supports giving teachers greater choice in selecting their own tools, particularly at schools that have met the target score of 800 on standardized math and English tests, said Ed Burke, his chief of staff.

The incumbent, a veteran teacher, also is concerned that Open Court focuses too heavily on math and English to the exclusion of science and social science.

"Jon has been for teacher and school flexibility for some time and he has been advocating that," Burke said. "And he has been looking at the other areas since he feels a school is not just one subject — it's several subjects."

But Galatzan argues that Lauritzen hasn't tried during his first term in office to shift authority for curriculum from district headquarters to local schools.

If she's elected, the longtime city prosecutor said she would work to give teachers a greater ability to develop and customize curriculum.


"It's obvious that Open Court has some strengths, but that doesn't mean it couldn't use a dose of adrenaline to empower it so it increases flexibility for teachers and enhances the students' experience," said Mike Trujillo, Galatzan's campaign manager.

"If Jon Lauritzen really wants to support teachers and give them a greater role in choosing their curriculum, he wouldn't be so opposed to charter schools."

LAUSD test scores at the elementary-school level have outpaced gains statewide for years, but even district officials agree the improvements need to be accelerated.

"Complete materials, high standards, common assessments, professional development and coaching and collaboration among teachers — they're the key to getting good results for our kids," said Morris, the District 2 chief.

smf opines: The mayor in his campaign for mayoral control was at one time a supporter of Open Court and scripted instruction; now he’s changed his mind. I’d be delighted in this “flip-floppery”…except that I suspect he’s right; I’ve been uneasy with one size fits all/lock-step/If it’s Tuesday it must be Chapter six,. Page thirty-seven instruction” for a while. Two years into his regime as the “Education Mayor” he was bound to learn something – good thinking is good thinking whether driven by the “aha moment” or the electoral imperative. Good job!

Not to argue with my friend Jim Morris, but the part about the great deal of flexibility has certainly been well hidden from classroom teachers and Open Court Coaches.

Open Court® does not encourage critical thinking, by teachers or students. Open Court was not designed for English Language Learners – but that’s a size it’s required to fit. Open Court is the very profitable product of a textbook publisher, a publisher with a monopoly on elementary reading instruction – not just textbook sales but curriculum and the morning schedule of every LAUSD elementary classroom! That monopoly, however, is not on good thinking or educational practice/pedagogy. The same can be said of UTLA, the mayor, the Board of Ed, longtime-city-prosecutors and certainly yours truly! Needs, programs and all the rest differ from school-to-school, classroom to classroom, child to child. Good teachers know this and practice it without a script.

1 comment:

Mathew said...

Open Court, is an LAUSD teacher's site with contributed resources by teachers (many of them in LAUSD) finding ways of innovating the program and teaching it effectively to English Language Learners.