Where lessons are scripted

29th October 1999 at 01:00
UNITED STATES. TEACHERS in Chicago have always had guidelines for instruction in the classroom. Now they have a script.

The city's new so-called structured curriculum, part of a drive to raise scores on standardised tests, provides minute-by-minute lesson plans for every day of the school year. It is so detailed that it tells teachers when to circulate around the room.

Critics say the lesson plans mirror the newstress on testing in US education, which they say is so inflexible it stops teachers addressing individual students' strengths and weaknesses. One Chicago newspaper said the system was "something General George Patton might have saluted".

Proponents say the curriculum is just a tool to make sure that all students receive the same instruction, and that weak teachers cover equal ground.

The lesson plans, each of which fills a notebook two inches thick, are voluntary, though principals can require their teachers to use them. Many in low-performing schools have embraced the idea, and officials estimate that one in three teachers will be following the curriculum by the end of this academic year, rising to 80 per cent within five years.

Chicago has 591 schools, making it the nation's third-largest school system. It has previously fostered local control of schools, even setting up boards to oversee each school. Chaired by parents, the boards have the power to dismiss a principal after performance reviews every four years.

Strict lesson plans are a change in direction, said Suzanne Davenport, director of a Chicago school reform organisation called Designs for Change. "It's antithetical to what educational research shows are effective strategies to help all students achieve," she said. "Teaching has to be related to student needs, and it should be based on the data that the teachers have about their students."

According to Allen Bearden, of the Chicago Teachers Union the curriculum "forces teachers to teach one way". "It is a one-size-fits-all model, and we know that different children have different learning styles, and different approaches have to be used to serve those individual students," said Mr Bearden.

Chicago education officials emphasised that the curriculum was developed over two years with the help of 100 top teachers, and was tested last year in 60 schools.

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