By Laura Crist
In June of 2019, Tammy Lacey gave a warning to our community, “Everyday, way too many children come to school hungry, homeless, lonely and traumatized by what goes on outside school.
We take them as they come as we strive to educate them. But the recent elimination of 102 teachers and numerous after-school, summer and other academic support programs limits our impact.”
Great Falls has only passed two school levies in the past 12 years. Since that time our schools have been forced to cut people and programs in order to balance the budget to include 102 teaching positions gone.
This has affected our students, our teachers and our community in significant ways.
More students are trying to learn in crowded classrooms and teachers must now not only teach but also provide support services for kids while having less help to customize learning for all students.
For the first time, we are beginning to have trouble attracting new hires to Great Falls and when we do, there is no longer a robust new teacher training program to support them in their first three years.
With all the reductions noted above, it is also becoming a concern for those who are looking to move to our community. They understand that great schools are one of the key building blocks to a strong, vibrant and growing community…a community people want to live in.
Without a course change, I worry about the continued greatness of our schools.
As our community contemplates the serious consequences of that noted above, I seek to shed some light on another area that really has been suffering for the past decade: our curriculum resources.
School curriculums are created from national guidelines and policies, state education guidelines and policies, and our district guidelines and policies. The locally written goals included in the curriculum documents provide the roadmap for students and teachers.
Curriculum and all it entails helps to standardize learning goals for an entire district and helps create a clear path to help students learn from one grade to another.
Why is it really necessary to review, revise, and change the curriculum? Because education is dynamic.
It is always changing as we learn new things and as our world changes. Education allows for progression and innovation.
Just think about the advances that we have seen in the past 50 years!
A man has been put on the moon, climate changes are causing us to think radically and differently, new technology advances we never dreamed about happen terrifyingly frequent, new scientific and archaeological discoveries and history continues to be made on a daily basis.
With these changes, curriculum updates are essential in helping to teach our students about them and how to learn from and with the ever-changing world. I believe John Dewey said it best,
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s we rob them of tomorrow.”
When our district looks at purchasing a new set of resources for a revised curriculum, it involves a committee consisting of teachers, parents and community leaders to seek the best curriculum resources that are essential to support the subject matter.
The process takes over a year with regular meetings to study current research, examine national and state standards, correlate the content with other subjects of learning and determine what students should know, understand and be able to demonstrate within the subject area.
Lillian Katz states,
“Curriculum should help children make deep and fuller understanding of their own experience.” We can only do this if we have the most innovative and current resources available.
With a decade of cuts, our teaching materials and technology are falling drastically behind.
Our stats books are 18 years old
This is a typical textbook given in our schools
This math book is 9 years old
For example, a typical curriculum revision cycle, especially in science should be no more than 6 years. Our most recent elementary science curriculum update took 11 years!
Elementary students have had the same science textbooks and kits for 11 years.
New science curriculum resources were finally purchased and implemented this fall because it took 3 budget cycles to garner enough funds to pay for it.
An average curriculum resource adoption costs around $750,000 per 900 students in each grade level K-6. The new resources feature a great online learning subscription, hands-on learning activities, and beautiful new texts.
The ongoing problem happens when the subscription runs out for a board adopted resource. There is no budget for sustaining a current content area with good resources while upgrading another content area. The end result is students go without and teachers teach without the proper resources.
Our science curriculum is not the only area that has been behind. Here are some photos of our sixth-grade social studies textbooks. They are 16 years old!
Our fourth grade Montana History unit is 12 years old. High school English books are in shreds. Materials are falling apart.
These are the resources we are giving to our students because we don’t have the funds to update or replace them.
They are not being given opportunities to learn the most up-to-date information. Teachers have to supplement materials for newer state and federal standards. This further increases their workload and takes away from more one-on-one interaction with students.
In a recent article from the World Economic Forum, it talks specifically about why schools need to teach the curriculum of the future and not the past.
“Overwhelming evidence shows the shift in what the workforce needs is already underway and that it will continue to grow much larger in the future…. A student that begins primary school today will graduate from university in the mid-2030s and their career will last through 2060 or beyond.
While we can’t predict exactly what our workforce’s needs will be in the middle of the century, we already know they are changing and will continue to change with the rate of technological advancement.
Yet in most schools, you visit in 2018 you see teachers teaching the exact same subject matter that was taught in 1918. …Debates about the future of education center on changing how we teach or embracing technology in the classroom, but there is almost no debate about the need in changing what we teach.
The discussion of future work should go hand in hand with a discussion of the future of curriculum.”
Great Falls has been known to have excellent schools. We still have excellent schools, but we are falling behind due to a lack of funding. Our children are the ones who are suffering.
We need to let our community know enough is enough and stand up and stand with our children, our teachers, and our community. We have to do this together.
I am confident we can be a part of the positive change education can bring in our community.
Interview with Shelly Kelly, GFPS Elementary District Curriculum Coordinator