SpringBoard debate off to state
September 21, 2010
Using a feminist critique, to what extent does the portrayal of men and women in Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” support a patriarchal view of the world?
Or, from a Marxist perspective, circle the response that most nearly reflects your beliefs regarding this statement – being wealthy is a burden – strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree.
These are high school assignments from the controversial English textbook known as SpringBoard, examples, critics argue, of a “liberal, new age” teaching style at odds with the school district’s traditional grammar, vocabulary and writing instruction.
Now, opponents of the curriculum are taking their concerns to the state, despite the Douglas County School Board’s 5-2 decision in June.
“This district has several traditional competencies, yet they’ve chosen a very liberal, new age book,” said teacher Karen Heine, co-chair of the English department at Douglas High School. “A lot of parents are concerned about this. It’s very divisive – the kind of thing that starts charter schools.”
“It’s definitely not preparing us for the real world,” said Heather VanCleave, a Douglas High senior who started an anti-SpringBoard petition.
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That petition already has 250 signatures of teachers, students and parents, VanCleave said.
In August, adoption of SpringBoard was pulled from the State Board of Education’s consent agenda after opponents voiced their concerns in an open meeting. The item was later agendized for the state’s Oct. 7-8 meeting in Las Vegas.
Because the state must formally approve textbooks selected by districts, Superintendent Lisa Noonan obtained permission from the state superintendent to move ahead with SpringBoard as planned until a decision is rendered.
Noonan started her job a little more than a month after school board members voted 5-2, with Keith Roman and Randy Green voting nay, to implement the SpringBoard textbooks and curriculum in secondary schools.
“I’m not here to unring the bell,” Noonan said. “The local board took all concerns into consideration. They knew they were going to have a new superintendent, they knew the frustrations, and after hearing all sides, they voted to make SpringBoard the core program.”
Noonan said it’s not fair to cherry pick a few assignments from a broad curriculum.
“When a parent comes forward and says they don’t like a novel, I always ask them if they’ve reviewed the material in its entirety,” she said. “I like that the College Board (creator of SpringBoard) is behind this. They have a fabulous reputation for rigor and a pretty hefty foundation of credibility. I like the vertical pieces. Kids stand a better chance when they’re linked in a chain together.”
Noonan said she has made herself available to concerned teachers. She said feedback from the high school was minimal.
“I don’t know any other way than to help them make it work, to say ‘let’s do it’ and work through the barriers as they come,” she said. “They’re trying. They’re being good soldiers and doing what they’ve been asked to do.”
The opposition, however, is still growing.
“All classic literature has disappeared or has been excerpted instead of taught in full,” said teacher Katy Shipley, co-chair of the Douglas High English department. “It’s a sexy package, an easy solution that will lead to long-term problems. I think teaching in sound bites is a travesty.”
Shipley said SpringBoard is simply not the right fit for Douglas County, which prides itself on high-quality, challenging education.
“I feel this is poorly arranged and quickly printed,” she said. “I don’t think it has been fully vetted, and it’s simply not cost-effective.”
The district puts the cost of SpringBoard at $62,046 a year for all secondary grade levels, including consumable materials students write on.
Director of Curriculum Kerry Pope said that figure compares to $80,000-$90,000 per grade level every six years for traditional textbooks.
“Price-wise, it’s not a huge drain on the district,” she said. “It’s right around what we pay for textbooks.”
Another point of contention has been whether or not SpringBoard can be effectively supplemented with other books.
Noonan said English instructors are required to teach 85 percent of the program within each unit.
“Each teacher can decide which part to skip over to make room for something else,” she said.
The problem, critics counter, is that the remaining 15 percent of instructional time must be spent on grammar, vocabulary and writing instruction missing from the core curriculum.
“The idea of alignment has been so enticing to the district. They so strongly want to align curriculum,” said Carson Valley Middle School teacher and novelist Liz Leiknes. “But we are less aligned now than we were three years ago because of the gaps in SpringBoard.”
Leiknes said the district’s error was making the jump from SpringBoard as supplemental text to primary text.
“I’ve been involved in textbook adoptions before, but never have I seen one where we didn’t get to look at other products,” she said. “With Prentice Hall, we had oodles of supplements. With Prentice Hall, SpringBoard would have been sold as a supplement. The solution is simple: make SpringBoard a supplement.”
“Teachers who used SpringBoard with fidelity last year did supplement SpringBoard and did read more,” she said.
Pope also agreed with Noonan that taking one assignment out of context doesn’t paint an entire picture. She said a Marxist perspective means looking at a text through the lens of economics, materially and monetarily. It does not mean the district is promoting Marxism, she said.
“If I were a bystander, I would be concerned as well,” she said, “but we’re not teaching students the right way to do something. SpringBoard is not taking a political stance. Rather, students are learning to think critically and look from different perspectives. If there’s a group of people who want to sit down and go through the curriculum, I’d be happy to do that.”
Noonan, Pope and Assistant Superintendent Lyn Gorrindo, along with trustee Sharla Hales, will be traveling to Las Vegas to make their case to the state board.
The meeting can be attended via video conference in the state’s main office in Carson City, 700 E. Fifth St. The SpringBoard item is scheduled to be heard shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 8. Public input will also be taken at the same office a little after 3 p.m. on Oct. 7.
SpringBoard opponents are urging residents to contact Dave Cook, Douglas County and Carson City’s representative on the State Board of Education, at ProfDaveCook@hotmail.com.