Dear Chancellor Fariña

by Lisa Hansel
January 7th, 2014

Congratulations on your new post! Education is a calling—one you’ve heard loud and clear. New York City’s educators will benefit from having a leader who understands the uniquely caring and collaborative nature of their work.

Of all the things I’ve read about your return to NYC’s schools, I find your commitment to joy most striking and welcome. In particular, I appreciate the choice of the word joy. Unlike mere fun, joy is fun plus a sense of accomplishment and independent mastery. Joy is often experienced while working toward a goal—especially when the challenge is real and progress is evident. Could there be a better path to lifelong learning than a rigorous and joyful preschool – 12th grade education?

As you have no doubt seen, the absence of joyful, rigorous learning is one of the saddest features of so many schools that serve our most disadvantaged youth. Children start kindergarten lacking the necessary knowledge and skills. Teachers start the year lacking the necessary supports. Frustration reigns.

To bring joy into such an environment, we have to meet the children where they are and very quickly give them everything they need to tackle grade-level work without fear.

I ask you to think of Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) from this perspective.  It does not assume children arrive with reading skills or large vocabularies. It does not privilege those who have been read to at home. It teaches reading and writing skills in a logical, step-by-step manner that prevents frustration. From the very beginning, it also engages children in the wonders of the world—fictional, historical, and scientific—as their teachers read aloud texts carefully developed to give everyone a strong, broad foundation for later learning.

Visit a CKLA classroom, and you will see joyful, rigorous learning. Here’s how Christina Tracy, of Goldie Maple Academy (PS 333) describes it:

Core Knowledge curriculum provides great enrichment for all levels. I have been a teacher in the NYC Board of Education for seven years. I feel blessed that I entered a school where the Core Knowledge curriculum was being implemented. As an early childhood professional for twenty years, my hesitation was there. But once I started teaching the Core Knowledge curriculum I was overwhelmed with amazement at the ability of first graders who were able and eager to grasp the topics of the program. Going back in time to Ancient Egypt happens to be one of the first graders’ favorites. Learning about the Tutankhamen and Hatshepsut intrigued them to be curious and think about life during that time. Exposing students early in their education career only builds their knowledge which in return builds their confidence. Some of the best compliments are when a parent reveals their first grader is educating them. There are so many great topics in the Core Knowledge curriculum that entices a teacher’s creativity. As educators we know students thrive on knowledge and when exposed to profound topics early in life this helps them build their critical thinking skills and their curiosity to learn. In addition, I feel our school is one step ahead with the Common Core Learning Standards because of the enriched curriculum of Core Knowledge.

Jena Peluso, one of Tracy’s colleagues, capitalized on her students’ enthusiasm and NYC’s resources to deepen her students’ knowledge and joy: “Last year I visited the Museum of Natural History with my first grade students, and as we were walking through the ancient Egyptian exhibit in the museum, the students were amazed that they were getting to see things in person that they were learning about all month. Not only were the students amazed, but other museum goers and tourists were amazed at the rich vocabulary that was coming out of these little six year olds’ mouths. The students were able to recognize everything from the Sphinx to the sarcophagus, it was truly rewarding as a teacher to see this happening as a result of teaching this rigorous curriculum.”

Your expertise is in middle school, which is often the most difficult part of the educational journey, and you’ve said that you intend to spend this first year focused on the middle years. As you spend time in the city’s middle schools, I have a two favors to ask.

First, please consider what students need to know and be able to do as they enter middle school. What do sixth graders need to be able to write poems, participate in history research projects, and conduct science experiments? Reading, writing, critical thinking, and problem solving skills for sure—but how are those cultivated? By building knowledge and skills together. Every topic sixth graders need to think about is a topic they must know about. Sixth graders need to be able to read and write fluently so they can devote their working memory to comprehension and composition. They need to have large academic vocabularies so they don’t struggle to understand primary and secondary sources. They need broad knowledge and skills. They need effective (joyfully rigorous) and efficient (intentionally gap closing) elementary schools.

Second, sometime this spring, please visit some Core Knowledge schools. I’ll be happy to arrange tours for you.

(The joy of reading courtesy of Shutterstock.)

 

1 Comment »

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    Pingback by Top Stories 1 / 14--20 / 2014 | CUNY Institute for Education Policy — January 20, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

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