Boulders in the stream

The only word I have left to sum it up is…”defeated”. It’s been three years in the making, so let me explain:

In 2014, I reevaluated my role as a traditional English teacher. In the text “Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era”, authors Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith discuss the history of our current educational framework. “In 1893, Charles Eliot of Harvard and the Committee of Ten partitioned the world into five distinct subject areas: math, science, English, history, and foreign languages. Over the last century, the meager changes we’ve made in pedagogy have revolved around refining these five departments into subclumps (e.g., biology, chemistry, and physics), and assigning subclumps to grade levels. It’s shocking that the typical student day in 2015 is eerily similar to what it was at the beginning of the twentieth century.” That would be 123 years since the path to college preparedness had been created.

Since that time, all categories have been broken into subgroups, including in the West Fargo Public School District. Well, all except for English. Since the creation of my school district, students have had one path through English/Language Arts (ELA) toward graduation. That path is English I, English II, English III and English IV. It might be time for a change.

With the thought that post-secondary student success is the most important factor, English teachers at WFHS began to evaluate the possible options in 2015. (The following timeline reveals actual emails from WFHS English teachers and WFPS district officials, but names have been redacted.)

With the help of some colleagues, we proposed a diverse approach for students to gain standardized skills through various ELA courses. Since our state standards moved to a more skills-based format that focused on essential skills for post-secondary success, it made sense to reevaluate our English curriculum approach.

This conversation began prior to our April 1, 2015 PLC meeting date. The agenda for that meeting looked like this:

March 21 2015 PLC.png

After the meeting, an email was sent to colleagues regarding the final proposal for input on a more inclusive English curriculum that provided more options for students (sent April 2 2015):

April 2 2015

Since we are dealing with a large educational institution, it’s understandable that curriculum decisions would take time. In fact, our own superintendent quoted a text this past fall, “Inevitable” by Charles Schwann, which states “Public education is difficult to change.” The conversation died for an entire year, until it was brought up again in April 2016 (email sent April 20, 2016).

April 20 2016 edited.jpg


After many emails back and forth within our department, it resulted in a decision pushed to the next fall. (May 17 2016)

Actual May 17 2016 edited.png


After that Sept. meeting and prior to the Nov. 1 meeting, an agenda was sent that limited the options available to discuss.

Nov 1 2016

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 7.59.58 PM

It was after this meeting that the initial purpose behind this proposal became disoriented. Instead of focusing on curricular options for upperclassmen, officials leaned toward teachers to provide more literature options for students. This was considered despite the fact that the text Dr. Flowers cited from Schwartz this fall states, “Teacher preferences are important, but schools do not exist for adults, they exist for learners and learning.” 

Nov. 14 2016

Nov 14 2016

Since changes need to be proposed a year ahead of time, this would push the course change back another year to 2018-2019. The conversation stagnated after this, until I brought it up again this fall. However, after inquiring about possible ELA pathways for upperclassmen, the response was slightly simpler after another meeting.

Oct. 17 2017

oct 17 2017

So, in essence, I am defeated. It has been more than two years and nothing has changed. The only path to graduation for ELA students at WFPS will be English I, English II, English III, English IV Comp/English IV Lit. (For what it’s worth, this was the same path when I graduated high school almost 20 years ago.)

We still only allow students one path through ELA to graduation and that won’t change anytime soon in my school district. As Sir Ken Robinson states in his book “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education”: “In principle, the curriculum should shape the schedule. In practice, it often works the other way around.” Unfortunately, that has yet to happen where I work.

This image, which has appeared on numerous posts and blogs about education, pretty much sums it up:


One response to “Boulders in the stream”

  1. To quote you athletic supporters: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” ~ John Wooden

    Baby steps!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: