Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The TCRWP; Or, How Bad Ideas Survive Even When You Try to Squash Them

As some of my regular readers may know, I have no great love for the Teachers' College Reading and Writing Project; or, more accurately, how the TCRWP tends to get implemented in the city schools.  It has some fine ideas in theory, and it may be appropriate in some settings, but with the populations that most of us tend to teach, it's like giving a violin player a tuba.

So I read, with something like horror, that there is in the world a book called (ludicrously) Pathways to the Common Core by none other than TCRWP's high priestess, Lucy Calkins.  Education Gadfly's Common Core Watch does a pretty good job of calling into question the motivations of Calkins and the book's publisher, Heinemann, who also publishes the Fountas and Pinnell leveling series.  Heinemann and its authors have clearly realized that the arrival of Common Core, while not necessarily an unqualified success or anything, will take schools in a direction away from TCRWP.  Welcome back, whole class texts.  Goodbye, teachers trying to figure out how to work with kids reading 27 different books at once.

Kathleen Porter-Magee at Common Core Watch seems to believe that Heinemann is trying to salvage its cash cows in TCRWP and Fountas and Pinnell, and while she's probably not wrong about that, from a teacher's perspective, there's something more insidious even than that happening.  For whatever reason, and maybe it's more involved than profit, these entities peddled these pedagogies for quite a while, and teachers who had good reason to not buy into these pedagogies (such as, for example, yours truly) were told in their schools to shape up or ship out.  TCRWP really is a whole-school, full-time commitment.  So teachers who had hoped that the arrival of Common Core would bring TC schools in line with a more rigorous pedagogical model might well be disappointed.  Again.

Say what you like about Common Core; while it's not completely without problems, it does allow teachers to make good professional judgments while holding students accountable to meeting high standards and works to solve the problem of students being woefully unprepared for rigorous middle and high school material.  TCRWP, on the other hand, keeps teachers and students in a permanent la-la land of the personal essay and the "just-right book."  And what I dislike most about TCRWP is, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, it not only substitutes the aforementioned la-la land for the real world in which we teach and in which our students live, but allows for no variation that takes the real world into consideration.  I was told, when TC came to my school, that I could no longer implement whole-class texts, even in units that had been successful and even praised in the past.  Any pedagogical model that wipes out good and effective work that has been in the past is designed to breed resentment and half-assed execution among even dedicated and bright teachers.

So while I hoped that TCRWP would die a slow and painful death be phased out in the city schools with the advent of Common Core, this is not necessarily a sure thing while Heinemann and the TCRWP powers that be continue to attempt to milk their cash cow.  Don't be tempted by the title of the book.

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