By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The recently passed K-6 social studies curriculum for the Marshfield School District has been the subject of passionate debate and criticism.
Marshfield School Board member Mary Carney spoke against the curriculum during the July 8 school board meeting — in which it was passed — as did two members of the public. A letter to the Hub City Times published in the Aug. 1 issue expressed many of the same concerns as Carney and the others who spoke at that board meeting.
One assertion against the newly passed curriculum is that it takes autonomy away from teachers. Opponents also have said that teachers would likely voice opposition to the curriculum if given the opportunity.
Director of Teaching and Learning for the Marshfield School District Kim Ziembo said that teachers develop and write the curriculum with her assistance. Ziembo said she is the only nonteacher involved in creating the curriculum.
“We use professionals to write curriculum,” Ziembo said. She added that two or three teachers from each grade level, in this case K-6, develop the curriculum and report quarterly back to all of the district’s teachers at Professional Learning Community meetings. All teachers are able to give feedback at those meetings and address how they feel about the developing curriculum.
“Unless you’re a brand new teacher to the district, you would have been part of the process,” Ziembo said.
Opponents have also said the newly passed social studies curriculum represents a big departure from previous years.
Ziembo said that claim is “completely unfounded. I mean it really truly is unfounded.” She added that she has corresponded with several teachers since the board meeting in which the curriculum passed and that they have indicated the new curriculum shows very few differences from previous years.
Ziembo said the only notable difference would be the district’s effort to make sure what is being taught is consistent across grade levels throughout the district. Critics have said this standardized approach could have an impact on freedom of thought in students and the teachers’ ability to use their own unique skill sets to best influence a classroom.
“I just feel like it’s too top down,” Carney said. “It’s just too specific.” She added that she felt the approach teachers would be asked to take differed between grade levels and was incongruous from grade to grade.
“There just seems to be there’s one outcome for this curriculum. There’s one type of student for this curriculum,” Carney said. “It’s cookie cutter. … I really don’t see much independent thought throughout this curriculum at all.”
Ziembo said that there are targets for what each student should know, but how teachers work with each child “is going to depend on what the student need is.”
Marshfield School District Superintendent Dee Wells added, “There is sort of the science of teaching and the art, and the science is having standards. The science is having essential learnings that students can understand. The science is the fact that we know through research that when we instruct in these manners, students do tend to learn better. … The art is what the teacher brings to the classroom. The art is how they engage the student.”
Wells added that common standards in the curriculum are intended to make sure that no students receive an education that would leave them behind their peers.
“The purpose of standards is really to set the benchmark for, ‘What do we want our students to know when they exit?’” Wells said. She added that without common standards, students may leave the school district at potentially different levels of readiness for their next endeavor.
“That (common standards) really accounts for equal opportunity for the students. We don’t want our students at Lincoln getting a better education or a worse education because that teacher decides what they’re going to teach. I mean that’s the whole purpose — to have consistency in the building so that we give equal opportunity to all of our students,” Ziembo said.
Critics have said the kindergarten curriculum is overloaded with books that are not age-appropriate and potentially not in line with Midwest values. Carney said one book in particular, “For Every Child a Better World” by Jim Henson, was too dark for kindergarten students. That book is currently under review by the district.
Ziembo said that the books listed in the curriculum are only guides to resources that could be used and that teachers are not mandated to read or utilize them. Wells and Ziembo both said that in creating the curriculum teachers wanted to have as many resources as possible at their disposal.
There has also been opposition to the effect that this newly passed curriculum puts too much of an emphasis on globalization and making students into global citizens. The rationale written in the beginning of the curriculum says in part, “The aim is to create citizens who have the ability to use their knowledge about their community, nation, and world; apply inquiry processes; and use specific skills of data collection and analysis, collaboration, decision-making, and problem solving.”
The rationale also says, “When young people are knowledgeable and skillful in a diverse world, they become effective members of global communities.”
Carney said that there is not enough of an emphasis on American inventors in the curriculum and that students are no longer required to know state capitals. The fourth grade curriculum does suggest teachers cover the impact of inventions on Wisconsin and American citizens in several different contexts.
“Economics now transpire on a global basis. Companies right here in this area likely provide either a part or something that is done globally,” Wells said. She added that students need to be equipped to deal with an increasingly globalized world and different cultures.
“We want our young people to be great citizens no matter where they land after high school and beyond,” Wells said.