"Much ado about nothing."
-- William Shakespeare
The presumably uncontroversial quote above pretty much describes the end of the mountain-out-of-a-molehill contretemps regarding an excerpt from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama discovered in one of Racine Unified's 8th grade textbooks.
After review of the controversy caused by an anonymous parent's complaint to a conservative blogger, Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw and Board President Tony Baumgardt released the following statement today:
“Concerns raised in recent weeks about textbook selections in Racine Unified’s 8th grade English Language Arts class deserved a careful investigation and deliberate response to members of our community who initially identified this issue. Upon review, we have determined that textbook selection policies and procedures were followed appropriately; the Obama excerpts are consistent thematically with the required curriculum, and teachers did not advocate for any political candidate through the teaching of these selections. Our educators work diligently every day to provide the best possible education for our students, including relevant, interesting content that reflects the diversity of our student population.”Jeff Weiss, RUSD director of curriculum and instruction, added:
"The readings by Obama are an approved part of the eighth grade curriculum. As such, they may be included as optional readings in the curriculum unit, “Acceptance of Others Makes Life Better.” By using this literature circle format, students will have choice in their reading selections without limiting the teachers’ ability to communicate the major themes of the units."Literature circles, Weiss said, are used four times during the school year, and are recognized as a best practice by the National Council of Teachers of English. They provide students "with a variety of reading selections, from an approved curriculum, centered on a common theme. Students are able to choose the reading selection that they find the most appealing. Teachers are then able to discuss how the theme relates to many situations and different facets of life."
Supt. Shaw's report, issued today to the Board of Education, concluded that "all applicable policies and procedures were followed properly."
The review was prompted by questions raised by two Racine parents "about the timing and delivery" of a curriculum unit with selections from a memoir and speech by Obama (who, it must be noted, may be elected president today). The excerpts are included in the McDougal Littell Literature anthology selected by the District in May 2007, well before Obama became the Democratic presidential nominee.
The selections are not specified as mandatory reading in the curriculum guide, but are included as options among selected readings within the unit. The review concluded that both selections are appropriate thematically with the 8th grade curriculum unit “Acceptance of Differences Makes Life Better” and aligned to Wisconsin State Standards. Furthermore, the review determined that no teachers who chose to include these selections in their lessons advocated for any political candidate through their teaching. District policy prohibits advocacy for a political party or candidate.
No formal, written complaint was received by the district, Shaw notes. "Two parents asked for a review of the timing, questioning whether it was appropriate to teach the Obama selections one month prior to the presidential election. Both declined to file a formal complaint about the material when offered that option. Hundreds of phone calls and emails were received from citizens inside and outside of the school district."Click on the link below for the three-page report, which lays out a time line of how the book was selected and concludes it was not used with any partisan intent in the middle schools. The same book is used in 12 other cities around the country, and 11 other school districts in Wisconsin.
The report also found several references to Sen. John McCain in text books used in Unified's high schools.
Click "Read More" below to read Unified's findings.
November 3, 2008
RUSD Board of Education
Dr. James Shaw, Superintendent of Schools
Jeff Weiss, Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Review Appropriateness of Material: 8th Grade, Literature
At my request to District staff on October 15, 2008, Jeff Weiss, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, has completed a review of:
· Textbook adoption policy
· Materials complaint procedure
· Instructional practices for the 8th grade English Language Arts curriculum
· Appropriate alternative curriculum choices
Textbook Selection Process
The textbook selection process began February 13, 2006, and was completed May 1, 2007. The adoption encompassed English Language Arts materials for grades six to eight. Six textbook publishers provided materials for review. A four-step textbook selection process was used.
· In the first step, the English Language Arts Textbook Committee, after reviewing possible textbook selections, narrowed the choices to two publishers: Holt and McDougal Littell. The committee voted to recommend the McDougal Littell 2006 edition series and accompanying material for possible adoption. The 2006 edition reviewed by the committee did not include selections by Obama. In January, 2007, McDougal Little offered its 2008 series (including selections by Obama) and additional materials at no additional cost. When compared to the Holt series, the McDougal Littell curriculum was explicitly aligned with State and local standards, was newer and less expensive, and provided intervention materials for struggling students. Jeff Weiss, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the English Language Arts Supervisor provided the Textbook Committee with this new information and several versions of the 2008 text.
· In the second step of the adoption process, the McDougal Littell 2008 materials with selections authored by Obama were provided to every teacher. Teachers were then asked for feedback. Mandatory meetings were held:
o March 29, 2007, Mitchell Middle School
o April 3, 2007, Starbuck Middle School
o April 17, 2007, McKinley Middle School
o April 18, 2007, Gilmore Middle School
o April 23, 2007, Jerstad Middle School
Supervisors and teachers concluded that the McDougal Littell series provided the best transition from elementary to middle school, supported the instructional process, had texts online, contained and offered diverse, contemporary and multicultural readings, provided intervention strategies as required by RTI federal mandate and was aligned with Pre-Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. The curriculum is organized around themes in order to teach skills, which current research advocates to improve student achievement.
· In the third step of the adoption process, the English Language Arts Supervisor presented the McDougal Littell recommendation to a sub-committee of the District-Wide School Improvement Council on May 1, 2007. The sub-committee reviewed the processes used by the adoption committee and unanimously recommended that the McDougal Littell series be approved for adoption.
· In the final step of the process, the Board of Education voted to approve the textbook adoption of the McDougal Littell 6th-8th grade 2008 edition middle school language arts series on May 21, 2007.
The review found that all relevant District policies and procedures (6161) regarding textbook selection and adoption were properly followed, and that all 8th grade teachers were following the adopted curriculum.
Materials Complaint Procedure
To date, there is no formal written complaint filed by a parent or Racine Unified citizen. The complaint procedure is available in the Croft Policy Procedure for Handling Complaints Concerning Educational Materials (6144.33). Two parents asked for a review of the timing, questioning whether it was appropriate to teach the Obama selections one month prior to the presidential election. Both declined to file a formal complaint about the material when offered that option. Hundreds of phone calls and emails were received from citizens inside and outside of the school district.
Because no formal written complaint was received from a Racine parent or citizen, no action under this policy was considered or initiated.
Instructional Practices for the 8th Grade English/Language Arts Curriculum
The RUSD 6th-8th Grade Curriculum Map, Part II was developed during the summer of 2007 by a team of teacher curriculum writers and the Supervisor of English Language Arts. This curriculum guide provides a road map for middle school English teachers to follow to ensure that daily lessons meet larger unit goals that are aligned with Wisconsin State Standards for Reading. There are six first-quarter units detailed on pages 6-7 of the curriculum guide:
· WKCE Preparation
· Ideas are Powerful
· Thematic Curriculum Unit: “Acceptance of Differences Makes Life Better”
· Text Unit Five: Poetry
An issue has been raised with respect to the inclusion of two essays written by Obama. The problem arises as part of an English curriculum unit for the 8th grade, known as “Acceptance of Differences Makes Life Better”. One of the excerpts is from Obama’s “Dreams of My Father” and appears on pages 832-843 of the Literature textbook, 2008 edition. The second excerpt is from Obama’s “Out of Many, One” which appears on pages 847-848 of the textbook. The core theme of the curriculum unit “Acceptances of Differences Makes Life Better” is that every American, taking advantage of what is available, can succeed. Obama states in “Out of Many, One”, “… my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all those who came before me, and that, in no other country on Earth, is my story even possible.” In the other selection, “Dreams of My Father”, Obama describes himself as a “misfit” (page 848) who struggled to succeed in school. One, both, or neither of the excerpts may be taught as part of this curriculum. The required reading for this curriculum unit is 145th Street Short Stories by Walter Dean Myers.
The selections and corresponding activities are directly correlated to the Wisconsin Model Academic State Standards for Reading. As an example, four Wisconsin Reading Standards are explicitly referenced in relation to the Obama selections:
· 1.1.6 Understanding connotative language (identified in text; not curriculum guide)
· 3.2.2 Identifying relationships (cause and effect)
· 4.2.3 Identifying purpose and point of view
· 4.2.8 Drawing conclusions
Wisconsin State Statute 118.01(2)(c)(7) requires that the instructional program include “an appreciation and understanding of different value systems and cultures and understanding of human relations, particularly with regard to American Indians, Black Americans, and Hispanics.”
This review concludes that the use of the selections in question are consistent with the overall theme of the unit and aligned to Wisconsin State Standards. Additionally, the review determined that these selections were taught in at least one middle school last year (2007-08 school year). The teacher and principal at this building report that no parent concerns or complaints were raised during the 2007-08 school year.
Instructional practices were also reviewed in a meeting on October 15, 2008, with 8th grade language arts teachers. Teachers reported that they organized instruction following the guidelines of the District’s approved curriculum. There is no indication that teachers used any curriculum or instructional practice to advocate for either candidate through the teaching of these selections. District policy prohibiting advocacy for a political party or candidate appears to have been followed by the teachers who used the Obama selections for this unit.
Other Notable Information Regarding 2008 Presidential Candidate References
The request for a thorough review has prompted a review of other references to 2008 presidential candidates in textbooks used by RUSD. There are no references to either candidate in the eighth or ninth grade social studies textbooks. There are multiple references to John McCain in the textbooks used for the high school American Government courses. After a review of the content and context of the grades 8-12 social studies curriculum, references to Senator McCain’s legislative accomplishments are determined to be appropriate and consistent with our approved curriculum units.
In response to a request for information regarding the use of the McDougal Littell Literature Series, the McDougal Littell Company stated that the following school districts use the 2008 McDougal Littell series:
· San Diego, CA
· Phoenix, AZ
· Ft. Wayne, IN
· Evansville, IN
· Chandler, AZ
· Wichita, KS
· Springfield, MO
· Wayne Township, MI
· Mesa, AZ
· Sioux City, IA
· Sioux Falls, SD
· Grayslake, IL
The McDougal Littell Company stated that the following districts from Wisconsin use the same series with the 2008 copyright:
· Dodgeland School District
· Prairie du Chien School District
· Iowa Grant School District
· Sparta School District
· Port Edwards School District
· Baldwin Woodville School District
· Washington Caldwell School District (Racine Co.)
· Rib Lake School District
· Hales Corner Lutheran School, Hales Corner
· Black River Falls School District
· Oconto School District
In conclusion, the textbook selection process used in reviewing and adopting the McDougal Littel Literature 2008 edition conforms to district policy. The textbook was properly vetted and found to be satisfactory. It was adopted before Barack Obama became the Democratic presidential candidate. There is no evidence that the selections were used to advocate for a political candidate.