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Teachers attack 'curriculum overload'


Elementary school teachers say Howard County ought to streamline its curriculum because they have too many competing objectives, directives, guides and tests, and not enough time for planning and teaching reading and science.

The startlingly candid report on "curriculum overload" that was presented to the Howard County school board yesterday revealed that teachers feel overwhelmed by the numerous and confusing demands put on them by the central administration.

The teachers also complain about inadequate materials and resources, including a shortage of science materials, computers, textbooks and paper for copies.

"This is really a 'teacher overload' report. The curriculum overload is a subset of the teacher overload," said Dr. Sandra J. Erickson, associate superintendent for curriculum, supervision and the office of staff development.

The report was compiled after five months of group discussions held by Dr. Erickson with the faculty of every elementary school in the county. Every teacher attended the optional meetings at 29 of the county's 32 elementary schools. The teachers raised numerous criticisms and concerns in the discussions.

The include:

* The school system has too many objectives, subjects, activities, guides and mandated tests. "The most frequent suggestion was to streamline the curriculum and identify the essential learnings for students at each grade level," the report said. The report also told of teachers who must "use five different curriculum guides and three or four assessment guides."

* There is not enough time and focus on teaching reading, in part because other subjects interfere. "Some teachers indicated that when they integrated social studies and language arts, reading time was lost," the report said. "Teachers felt that the format and content of the Primary Language Arts Guide was too complicated. They also indicated that there is not enough specific direction of the teaching of reading."

* Too many students are pulled out of class for such programs as band and drama, interfering with their learning of basic skills. Other school-based activities -- including cultural arts, holiday celebrations and poets-in-residence -- also interrupt teaching.

* Some elements of the curriculum -- such as emphasizing economics in third-grade social studies -- are inappropriate for // certain grade levels. Teachers also are struggling to teach students who have an "increasingly wider range of achievement levels."

* The curriculum guides for science do not provide enough information for teachers or students, and there is not enough time to conduct all of the science activities.

* There is a shortage of science materials and textbooks, and teachers are frustrated by limits placed on the use of copying paper.

* Teachers expressed many concerns about the inclusion of special education students in mainstream classrooms, saying that they have "insufficient training" and lack the time to give such students individual attention.

* There is an overall need for teachers to have more planning time, particularly with "the number of subjects, the wide range of students and the increase in the amount of consultation with special education staff."

The teachers proposed numerous solutions in the report, including streamlining and identifying the essential curriculum, keeping curriculum guides simple and coordinated, slowing the number of new initiatives, introducing curriculum changes to teachers earlier, streamlining the standardized tests, and providing more staffing.

Dr. Erickson said an immediate change will be to eliminate the requirement of direct keyboarding instruction in the third-grade language arts curriculum. Teachers had questioned the appropriateness of introducing the subject at that age and "noted that the teaching of keyboarding takes time away from the direct teaching of reading," the report said.

The school system will consider many of the suggestions as it continues to develop the systemwide Beyond the Year 2000 Strategic Plan, Dr. Erickson said. A yearlong process will begin to identify the essential curriculum, and an instruction handbook will be developed to streamline the numerous curriculum guides used by teachers.

Board members said they want to remain informed and involved in the follow-up to the report.

"I very much want to see the board be a part of this continuing process," said board member Stephen Bounds. "This is exciting. This can really change the way things are happening in elementary schools."

In other business, Associate Superintendent James R. McGowan announced transfers and promotions of assistant principals at elementary and middle schools.

* Joanne Winters, the assistant principal at Laurel Woods Elementary School, will become the assistant principal at Atholton Elementary School.

* Woodrow Rhoades, the assistant principal at Mayfield Woods Middle School, will become the assistant principal at Hammond Middle School.

* Debbie Jagoda, a teacher at Waverly Elementary School, will become the assistant principal at Rockburn Elementary School.

* Rosanne Wilson, a principal at a school in Stratford, Va., will become the assistant principal at Laurel Woods.

* Susan Hunt, a guidance counselor at Burleigh Manor Middle School, will become the acting assistant principal at Hammond Middle.

* Tom Saunders, a teacher at Mount View Middle School, will become the acting assistant principal at Patuxent Valley Middle School.

The school board unanimously approved the promotions but was not required to act on the two transfers. Additional assistant principal transfers and promotions for elementary, middle and high schools will be announced at subsequent meetings.

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