Carol Carstensen on West’s Planned English 10 Single Curriculum for All

Thank you for your email. I have been following the discussion on the proposed changes to English 10 at West. I know that there have been various conversations between West High staff and parents and downtown administrators. I believe that a number of the concerns raised by parents are being given serious consideration. I really think you need to allow some time here.
I do see a broader policy issue of the question of heterogeneous grouping. Since this is really in the area of the Performance and Achievement Committee, I will talk with Shwaw Vang about having a meeting on this topic. Given the current schedule of Board meetings it looks as if January is the earliest we can have a meeting on this.
It is important to remember that the Board’s role is to set policy not to get involved in curriculum decisions. Just to remind you of some of the pitfalls of having politicians make curriculum decisions: there is the national controversy over the teaching of evolution and the example of the Dover PA board; there is also the current push to require the use of abstinence only programs; and lastly various attempts to censor what books are used in classrooms.
P.S. If you decide to forward or post this, please use the entire response.
At 08:32 AM 12/2/2005 -0600, you wrote:
Dear Carol,
I am writing to request that you put a discussion of the plans for English 10 at West HS (and the question of whether or not West’s English 9 course has been appropriately evaluated, and whether or not the results of any evaluation support the implementation of English 10) on the agenda of a BOE meeting as soon as possible.
I believe it is time for the BOE to step in and take seriously its responsibility to students by insisting that the West administration make a sound, empirically-based decision.
Many thanks,

3 thoughts on “Carol Carstensen on West’s Planned English 10 Single Curriculum for All”

  1. A question I’d like answered: whose idea was it to appy for the SLC grant at West? Was it Valencia Douglas, then Asst Superintendent for Secondary Ed?
    And why, oh why is there such disparity in curriculum offerings across the district’s high schools? That, it seems to me, is very much within the BOE’s purview, and I’d like to see Carol Carstensen honestly and openly discuss this or at least allow the discussion to be placed on the agenda at a BOE meeting where we could hear a public debate.

  2. One note on the Small Learning Communities (SLC). We have been using them to help freshman students adapt to UW-Madison for around 5 years. (95% of freshman students enter through Letters & Science, so academic success in the first two years is of keen importance to us.) This is in keeping with the thinking in higher education in general.
    The questions that I have are more attuned to the implementation that I’m seeing, which tends to treat all students as homogenous in interest, ability, and aspiration.
    The models that we’ve adopted at the university level are more flexible and designed to give a strong early start and then let the students take over their community formation and academic activities. They are based on voluntary participation (typically with waiting lists as we grow the programs), and are organized through a variety of vehicles.
    Some place up to 25 students in the same sections of three thematically-grouped classes during their first semester. These classes have coordinated activities and in several cases engage students who also live in the same dorms.
    Other community-building models include a summer collegiate experience that gives students a head start on college through and intensive for-credit program the summer before their first semester. Still others revolve around undergraduate research programs, etc., etc.
    I’ve seen small learning communities work, but it helps to have them organized, managed, and assessed, to ensure that they are having the intended results. Under any circumstances, homogenization of the curriculum would appear to be counter productive.

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