Friday, June 23, 2006

News on Curriculum Development

Montgomery County Public Schools is developing a new sex education curriculum. Back in the early spring they produced a "framework," which is a very high-level outline, of a curriculum from pre-K through 12th grade, the citizens advisory committee haggled over it and approved it, and the school board accepted it.

Then ... nothing. Four committee meetings were cancelled, plink-plink-plink-plink just like that. The occasional reassuring memo said that MCPS lawyers were reviewing the content.

People started announcing their candidacies for school board, and some members announced that they would step down in the fall. Campaign web sites sprang up, meet-the-candidate events were scheduled, fund-raising emails went out.

The terms of the student members of the citizens advisory committee expired, and new student members were appointed, but the other committee members have not met them yet.

This week there was a small flurry of memos within MCPS, cc'ed to the committee.

Let me point out that though I received these memos as a member of the citizens advisory committee, they are in the public record. I won't be giving away any secrets here, if there ever were any.

The first memo, dated June 19th, from Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey to Superintendent Jerry Weast, reviewed the status of the new curriculum. It was a rather long memo, so I won't quote the whole thing here. She said:
Significant progress has been made in the development of revisions to the health education curriculum on family life and human sexuality. This has been a tremendous undertaking given both the sensitivity of the subject matter and the strong feelings associated with the revisions.

Now, I'll tell you, I don't think this is the way to think about this. The facts are the same whether you like them or not. The school district came under attack by radicals in 2004-2005, when a group of extremists thought they could kick out the board and take over, but the facts of sexuality, of contraception, condom use, sexual orientation, and the rest, are not in dispute by reasonable people.

I think of it this way. Imagine there is a line painted on the floor, six inches wide, and you have to walk its length without stepping off it. Unless you have a disability, or maybe you're intoxicated or something, this is a trivial thing to do.

Now imagine you have to walk the length of a six-inch-wide board, suspended between two buildings twenty stories above a busy street. The only difference between these two situations is the consequence of failing -- the task itself is the same. Do you think your performance would actually be better twenty stories up?

Seems to me, that's the way the school district is approaching the development of this curriculum.

OK, I'll shut up and quote the memo.
Our original timeline, provided on Febrary 17, 2006, anticipated that the lessons would be fully implemented in the Fall 2007 semester. This remains unchanged. However, the process of bringing the revisions forward for the Board of Education's approval involved a series of intermediate steps, beginning first with recommended curriculum revisions in June 2006, followed by the professional development plan for teachers and and administrators. The process of bringing the revisions forward for Board approval has been changed.

Look, if you've ever worked in a big organization, you might have a familiar feeling here. They're saying, we're going to move all of our milestones back, but we still promise to meet our drop-dead date.

Skipping a little bit:
... Originally, the revised curriculum on sexual orientation was to be field tested in the Spring 2007 semester and, pending any other further changes, prepared for final approval and implementation for the Fall 2007 semester. In addition, the revised curriculum and video on condom usage were to be field tested the Fall 2006 semester. With the exception of the condom usage materials, which will be delayed by one semester (to Spring 2007), field testing and implementation remains on schedule.

We were told months ago that the condom video had been produced. The citizens committee scheduled a meeting, in May as I recall, to view it. Cancelled. What do you suppose the problem was? Fear of falling twenty stories?

Dr. Lacey presented a new timeline. I won't quote here, but will summarize:
  • Citizens committee review of materials begins August 2006
  • School board primaries in September, general election in November [I added this item: JimK]
  • Present curricula, materials, and teachers' resources to the Board January 10, 2007
  • Field test sexual orientation lessons for Grades 8 and 10 in Spring 2007 (selected schools)
  • Field test condom video for Grade 10 in Spring 2007 (delayed by one semester from the original plan)
  • Present all materials for approval by the Board "no later than" June 2007
  • Implement it all as originally planned in Fall 2007

On June 20 -- the next day -- Dr. Weast sent a memo to the school board, saying "... I want to assure you that ..." and "... I want to commend staff..." and " ... the highest level of quality ..." etc., and attaching Dr. Lacey's timeline. His memo says the new stuff will be presented to the Board on January 9th, which is one day before Dr. Lacey said ... it's probably nothing.

I think most of the citizens committee members have had experience working with bureaucracy. Sometimes things can slow down until they just disappear, people forget about them. Sometimes you fight for consensus until everybody gets mad and gives up. But most of the time, if you're not too ambitious in your planning, stuff can actually get done. It is possible that the district is falling behind and will never be able to catch up, but ... hey, come on, this is really just about two 45-minute classes, remember?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim K said, It is possible that the district is falling behind and will never be able to catch up, but ... hey, come on, this is really just about two 45-minute classes, remember?


MCPS actions(or lack of)on this is like watching paint dry.


June 23, 2006 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought the pediatricians who reviewed the MCPS health education curriculum said it was "inadequate" and so all of it, from K-12, was going to be revised. If so, that's going to take a lot longer to finish than just two 45-minute classes.


June 23, 2006 12:57 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

The memo to Weast from Lacey says "The revisions include new curriculum, materials of instruction, and teacher resources and training materials related to lessons on sexual orientation for Grade 8 and Grade 10 and condom usage for Grade 10."


June 23, 2006 1:01 PM  

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