Report from Louisiana: In shocking news, canned curriculum doesn’t work

Posted: May 16, 2022 by Pat Austin in Uncategorized
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Photo by 2y.kang on Unsplash

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In shocking, absolutely SHOCKING news, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports that “Only 43% of kindergarten students read on grade level, 54% of first graders, 56% of second graders and 53% of third graders.”

(Insert sarcasm).

Seriously, who didn’t see that one coming?

After teaching ELA at the high school level for twenty-five years, I am not at all shocked by these numbers; in fact, I’m surprised they aren’t worse.

One of the main reasons I left the classroom when I did, rather than get my thirty years in, was because of the terrible Louisiana Believes ELA curriculum. When the program rolled out, I ranted and raved and went into fits of depression. There were tears shed over this curriculum at the time by gifted ELA teachers I worked with who knew this program was terrible yet were powerless to change anything. All reading for pleasure was removed from the curriculum. Most fiction was stripped out. And while I’m a nonfiction fan, the nonfiction pieces my 10th graders had to read were the dullest, driest, most soul crushing texts you can imagine.

I’m all for challenging a student. That wasn’t what was happening.

The word “rigor” became code for all we loathed about the reading materials. Teachers were expected to embrace the new “rigorous texts” and lead students through multiple, yes, multiple readings of them; and students were expected to read these eight page speeches or scientific articles multiple times while annotating, highlighting, examining, discussing, and writing.

No tenth grader I’ve ever met is going to get excited about reading Carrie Chapman Catt’s speech on women’s suffrage.

Teachers were given this curriculum and the accompanying prepared slides, and a script, and we were expected to follow it “with fidelity.”

Meanwhile, students mentally checked out.

When I tell you that there was ZERO fiction, I’m not kidding. And the ELA supervisor at the time told me that if kids want to read for pleasure, they will do it on their own.

That was about six years ago. Each year since then the curriculum has been loosened a bit, and a bit more each year. Teachers were given a little more flexibility but not much.

To combat the growing apathy toward English from my students, I brought in a classroom library and man was the excitement back in the classroom! Kids clamored for books they wanted to read.

But by then, my own future was sealed. I had to leave the classroom because I had lost faith in the program. Trust was broken. Teachers lost all voice, all input, all creativity and freedom over their classes. I could not in good conscience lead students through material that crushed their desire to read and learn; and for the record, the great test scores the admins were looking for never happened. They started to rise a bit once the bonds loosened, but this new curriculum did not solve the ills of literacy.

And, based on what I’m reading today, it still hasn’t.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

  1. Pod Hamp says:

    I must have missed it somewhere in your article, but what does ELA stand for? Growing up, I read books voraciously. It started in grade school when I would get to buy books from the Weekly Reader in class. In junior high, I graduated to Science Fiction. When I finished all the Sci Fi books in the junior high library, I moved on to the high school library, the city library, and finally the junior college library. All the while buying as many Sci Fi paperbacks as I could afford.

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I ended up becoming an engineer. And now, I’m an old retired guy who reads blog posts on the internet. If you expose kids to books they are interested in, they will do the rest.