With the re-entry of Farina's pal Lucy Calkins and Balanced Literacy and its Workshop models we may find ourselves in the Tweed version of Groundhog Day.
Friday's NY Times has a piece on Carmen Farina bringing back the ghost of Balanced Literacy and Lucy Caulkins, the incredibly controversial program implemented in the early years of BloomKlein and then abandoned because it was so clearly unworkable without serious reductions in class size. Caulkins and the thousand dollar a day Aussies brought in as advisers were amongst the most hated people in those early years of Klein's first chief ed officer, Diana Lam.
That Farina has learned her lesson from the past when she was part of the almost vicious imposition of BL on the entire school system is good news. But we know that the ambitious lunatic principal crew looking to make brownie points may force feed BL and the Workshop model back into their schools.In May, Ms. Fariña asked Ms. Calkins to host a seminar on her methods for hundreds of principals; in August, New York City teachers will be invited to a similar event.The Education Department did not respond when asked how much it was paying Ms. Calkins’s program.In the interview last week, Ms. Fariña emphasized that while she believed in balanced literacy, she would not mandate its use in classrooms or add it to the city’s list of preferred curriculums. “I’m just asking people to have a common-sense approach,” she said.
Bloomberg used a sledge hammer and Farina helped bring the hammer down and tainted many of the good aspects of BL for much of the teaching staff as principals force fed it to their teachers and used it against some senior people who were slow to adapt.Under the method, long-winded lectures by teachers were discouraged, and students worked frequently in groups — called workshops — to read and write. Spelling and grammar were de-emphasized in favor of fluency. Textbooks were scrapped in favor of classroom libraries teeming with novels and plays. And students were encouraged to write about social justice issues and tell their personal stories. Balanced literacy took off in New York under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who mandated the approach citywide in 2003 as one of his early efforts to shake up the school system.
When Diana Lam went down in scandal, Farina was promoted into her spot and force fed BL down every teacher's throat. But Farina is/was not a fan of low class sizes to go along with BL.
Personally, the idea of BL makes sense for kids who can handle being on their own to some extent with the teacher as manager. And this on Common Core is interesting since BL seems so at odds with CC:
“I don’t really agree with rigid, myopic interpretations of the Common Core,” Ms. Calkins said in an interview. “It needs to be a big tent.”
Some CC people are freaking, as is probably Sol Stern and his fellow phonics police who are CORE Knowledge fans. I have to state that there are elements of both that make sense - IF professionals - the teachers had real input they would find the way that works for them. Let me say this again in another way - every teacher with 3 or 4 years experience needs to be able to find the path that suits their personality and teaching style -- and not have PD imposed on them ad infinitum. (For newer teachers, yes.)
I came face to face with the BL/Workshop issue when I mentored Teaching Fellows (a once a month visit to observe them) in District 15 where Farina was Supt before she headed Region 8 under the first Joel Klein reorganization, which included my district (14) and 13. She went on to replace Lam and implemented the program city-wide. It is no accident that she left in 2007 when Klein abandoned BL when he thought it wasn't getting high enough test scores - a dumb reason but to Klein data meant more than classroom dynamics.
District 14 and 15 were very different in management and in population. Farina took over Region 8 with the attitude that the "back to basics" D. 14 was corrupt (not totally untrue) but tagged the educators as not as fit as the "progressive" D. 15 educators. I too wanted a more progressive system in D. 14, but one to take all factors into account - ie if you are going in the direction of D. 15, do it moderately in places with people eager and ready to try it - and shave class sizes to make BL feasible. In fact a blend of the D. 14 and 15 cultures would have made sense (I don't know the D. 13 culture but was never impressed.)
Instead, Farina came in an attitude of "my way or the highway." And the class size issue was always poo-poohed.
I got an inkling of what this meant when I went to see one of the Teaching Fellows I mentored (2002-5), a wonderful 2nd year 2nd grade teacher in Park Slope. She had around 22 kids in her class and her BL worked fairly well, according to her -- the kids seemed like readers and could work independently. But when they were doing the Writing Workshop and BL called for her to sit down with each group for a spell and then move on to another, one kid would not sit still and she had to spend time away from what BL called on her to do to make it work. I suggested she give the kid a workbook or rexo to work on until the lesson was finished. "Oh, no, we are not allowed to do that," she said. Workbooks and worksheets were banned. Thus, she had to take time away from the class and making BL work better because she had to deal with the restive child who at that point was not capable of doing the workshop model.
Farina had tied the teacher's hands behind her back in dealing with a kid who needed something to keep him busy for 20 minutes. Teachers have precious few weapons. And the "my way or highway" approach of Farina implementing Diana Lam is what caused so many teachers to turn off and created a hostile environment when attack dog Leadership Academy principals went after teachers who could not adapt fast enough to a very massive change in the style of teaching - especially those who had been teaching for many years.
I for one would have had trouble in the BL system given my belief that phonics was very necessary for the poorer readers - I felt there had to be intense work done to get them to decode -- and by the way, I have a Masters from NYU in diagnosis and correction of reading problems. I taught mostly in homogensous classes where they were grouped by reading scores - and my early administrators believed in making the so-called "bottom classes" smaller classes -- so you could adjust your teaching depending on the level of you class. But in heterogeneous mixed group classes you can't teach to the whole class - so in theory, small groups made sense and BL was one method of dealing with that. But imagine a class in Park Slope where the majority of the kids could read well compared to a class in my school where in a heterogeneous class you were lucky to find 30% reading well enough to work in these small groups. A potential nightmare.
Farina doesn't seem to see these complexities. Farina seems to see the educational world in a homogeneous way- her point of view. And with the re-entry of Farina's pal Lucy Calkins and Balanced Literacy and its Workshop models we may find ourselves in the Tweed version of Groundhog Day.
Here's a link to the Times piece and the entire article below the break.