I watched chapter three of A Year At Mission Hill with a heavy heart, almost tearful. The way in which educators teach and students learn at Mission Hill is exactly what I’ve viscerally yearned for in a school community, long before the words Common Core were ever uttered. Mission Hill is a K-8 public school in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, MA (note: since filming, the school has relocated to Jamaica Plain).
Mission Hill’s staff meets at the end of the summer to develop curricula that support the school’s philosophy; ideals such as kindness, meaningful work and caring for the land are infused into lessons. Together they came up with the first school wide theme of the year: honeybees. As you will see in this short chapter, students across all grades developed a wide range of important skills centered on this natural science topic. You will watch young children observing and describing honeybees in action while 7th and 8th graders problem solve and use measurement to construct a raised platform for a beehive. In all cases, students are expected to support their work with evidence.
In contrast to this, last night I reviewed unit #1 of ReadyGEN’s 5th grade ELA Common Core curriculum, which the NYC Department of Education has developed together with their corporate partner, Pearson. The reading comprehension passages are not meaningful to me, nor is the work inspiring. In my mind, ReadyGEN is test prep aligned to the expectations of the new CCSS assessments, not a rich English-language arts curriculum. Will our students be as engaged and motivated as the kids in A Year At Mission Hill? What real life knowledge will our kids gain from CCSS test prep and ReadyGEN?
After watching chapter three of A Year At Mission Hill, we urge you to write a letter to Bill Gates. How have corporate education reform policies impacted your ability to provide students with a rich, meaningful learning experience as showcased in this chapter? Alternatively, here’s the question posed by the filmmakers: “What sorts of relationships characterize a school in which everyone – children and adults – is on an active learning journey?”
We look forward to reading your letters!
Katie Lapham, Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates