Tuesday, February 8, 2011

PPSD middle school curriculum correction

I recently posted a version of my most recent East Side Monthly education column on Nathan Bishop Middle School. The blog post that reproduces the article is here. Since then, I heard from Theresa Fox, a seventh grade English teacher at Bishop, who wanted to share her thoughts and clarify a point that I made about middle school curriculum in the Providence Public Schools. I had stated
Clearly, it’s too soon to use long-term indicators such as high school graduation rates to determine whether the district’s newly implemented curriculum—which is the same at all of Providence public middle schools except for Nathanael Greene Middle School’s Advanced Academics program—will produce the results needed to close existing achievement gaps and propel all students to success in high school and beyond.
Ms. Fox corrected my statement that Nathanael Greene does not have a different curriculum than the other Providence public middle schools, and I am grateful for her clarification. Her entire response, which I believe will be printed in East Side Monthly's March edition, appears below. A few more thoughts from me follow her letter.
To the Editor:

I enjoyed reading Jill Davidson's recent piece about Nathan Bishop Middle School ("An Enviable Choice: A Look Inside Nathan Bishop," February, 2011) and her decision to possibly have her son attend next year.

I am thrilled to be teaching at Bishop and to be a part of such a vibrant and positive educational community.  Wonderfully supportive administrators, creative and energetic faculty and staff, supportive and engaged parents, and a diverse student body make for a truly exciting environment in which to teach and learn and it seems to get better each week.  At Bishop, I can help a student craft a piece of fiction that makes me wish I'd written it myself, watch excitedly as another masters his first "perfect paragraph," enjoy cafeteria table conversation in a mix of French, Haitian Creole, Arabic, and English with newcomers from Haiti, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Iraq, have a conversation a with student who reads The Economist for fun, and guide students through research about events they'd recently discovered in the history of their home country, the Dominican Republic.  In short, I agree with Ms. Davidson that it is an exciting addition to the list of school choices.

Before coming to Bishop, I taught at Nathanael Greene Middle School for 18 terrific years, half of those years in the Advanced Academic Program, and I served on the district's curriculum writing committee for a year, so I feel somewhat qualified to question one bit of her piece, however.

She mentions that the district's "newly implemented curriculum...is the same at all Providence public middle schools, except for Nathanael Greene's Advanced Academics program."  I did not know that this misperception was out there in the community, as, in fact, there is no special curriculum for the AA program--nor has there ever been one.  The curriculum is actually the same for all middle schools in all subjects--except for advanced math courses, into which students are scheduled according to placement test scores.  It is, and has always been, up to individual teachers or teams of teachers in the AA program (as in any classroom) to differentiate curriculum according to student needs, interests, and abilities.

Ms. Davidson's implication that a "policy-driven district program" exists with an AA curriculum at Greene is simply false and creates a false set of criteria for choice between schools.  I think parents should know this as they make decisions about their children's education.

Theresa Fox
Grade 7 English teacher

Nathan Bishop Middle School
Again, I am really grateful to Ms. Fox for her perspective and for correcting my misunderstanding. As I told her in email, I do think that that it's fair to say that Greene's Advanced Academics offering is a "policy-driven district program." It is offered to students as such. I need to understand more about the actual PPSD policy/policies that create the opportunity for academically advanced programs; I guess it's possible that such offerings exist in practice with no policy underpinnings. But Greene's program does exist and is promoted to students as a distinct experience, which I now know is the result of educator initiative within the standard curriculum framework.

Thank you, Ms. Fox! And thanks to everyone for the feedback I've received on the East Side Monthly columns. It's so valuable and much appreciated.

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