"Lost at Sea": New Teachers' Experiences with Curriculum and Assessment
by David Kauffman, Susan Moore Johnson, Susan M. Kardos, Edward Liu & Heather G. Peske - 2002
To better understand how new teachers experience curriculum and assessments in the face of standards-based reform, we interviewed a diverse sample of 50 1st- and 2nd-year Massachusetts teachers working in a wide range of public schools. We found that, despite the state’s development of standards and statewide assessments, these new teachers received little or no guidance about what to teach or how to teach it. Left to their own devices, they struggled day to day to prepare content and materials. The standards and accountability environment created a sense of urgency for these teachers but did not provide them with the support they needed. The absence of a coherent curriculum has implications for student achievement and teacher retention in that students may learn less than they otherwise might, and many new teachers who could have succeeded with more support may leave teaching prematurely because of the overwhelming nature of the work and the pain of failing in the classroom. This suggests an urgent need to reconsider the curricula and support provided to new teachers.
To better understand how new teachers experience curriculum and assessments in the face of standards-based reform, we interviewed a diverse sample of 50 1st- and 2nd-year Massachusetts teachers working in a wide range of public schools. We found that, despite the state's development of standards and statewide assessments^ these new teachers received little or no guidance about what to teach or how to teach it. Left to their own devices they struggled day to day to prepare content and materials. The standards and accountability environment created a sense of urgency for these teachers but did not provide them with the support they needed. The absence of a coherent curriculum has implications for student achievement and teacher retention in that students may learn less than they otherwise might, and many new teachers who could have succeeded with more support may leave teaching prematurely because of the overwhelming nature of the work and the pain of failing in the classroom. This suggests an urgent need to reconsider the curricula and support provided to new teachers.
"You want me to teach this stuff, but I don't have the stuff to teach." With this statement, Gail1 captured the challenge many new teachers face as they enter schools today. She understood that the academic curriculum is the core of her work and responsibility as a teacher. She recognized the increased focus on academic performance and accountability that is prevalent in an era of standards-based reform. She acknowledged the expectation that she prepare her 4th-grade students for the state's standards-based assessment. Yet Gail looked at the spare curriculum and lack of instructional materials presented to her as a 1st-year teacher and wondered just what it was that she was supposed to be teaching.
As large numbers of U.S. public school teachers retire and enrollments rise during the next decade, over two million new teachers will enter the profession (Gerald & Hussar, 1998). They begin their careers during an era of standards-based reform, when the "black box is open and what teachers teach and students learn is increasingly a matter of public scrutiny and debate, subject to direct measurement and inspection" (Elmore, 1999, p. 16).2 Most of the debate about standards-based reform focuses on the direct effects that standardized curriculum and high-stakes assessments have on student achievement, but there is some discussion about the potential effects, positive or negative, that standards-based reform has on the teaching force (Porter, 1989). Advocates of standards-based reform argue that greater specification and systemic alignment support teachers by providing them with greater certainty than their predecessors about what to teach and how to teach it (Schmoker & Marzano, 1999). Detractors of standards-based reform, on the other hand, complain that detailed prescription and scrutiny constrain teachers, compromising the intrinsic rewards of teaching (McNeil, 2000). New teachers are virtually ignored in this debate, however, even as districts nationwide are scrambling to attract and retain them. It is important to consider the potential influence of curriculum and assessments on whether new teachers stay in the teaching profession and whether they learn the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.
Through interviews with fifty 1st- and 2nd-year teachers, we sought to better understand how new teachers experience the curriculum and assessments they encounter. What curricular expectations and materials do they find in their schools? In what ways do they feel supported by the curriculum and materials they encounter and in what ways do they feel constrained? And, how do state-mandated assessments affect their experiences?
THE ROLE OF CURRICULUM
For new teachers, learning to teach well is difficult work. Managing a classroom, deciding what skills and knowledge to cover, designing lessons and implementing them effectively, accurately assessing student understanding, and adjusting to student needs are complex tasks; and new teachers need support to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to carry them out. The curriculum and its associated materials are potential sources of this support, and they play important roles in teacher development.
While the term "curriculum" conjures a host of meanings, we define it here as what and how teachers are expected to teach. As we define it for this paper, a complete curriculum specifies content, skills, or topics for teachers to cover; suggests a timeline; and incorporates a particular approach or offers instructional materials. If well developed, it can also help give new teachers insight into how students make sense of key concepts, the potential misunderstandings students may have along the way to comprehension, and the instructional strategies that are particularly effective for teaching a given concept or skill. Curricula come in a range of shapes and sizes, from sets of guides and materials purchased from publishers (e.g., textbooks and project kits) to plans developed by teachers at the school site. They vary greatly in specificityfor example, how much detail they provide about content and pedagogyand in their rigidity and standardizationfor example, the expectations that are placed on how faithfully all teachers are to follow what is laid out in the materials.
Cohen and Ball (1999) emphasize the dynamic relationship that exists among curriculum materials, teachers, and students, noting that each element is essential for effective instruction but that none operates independently of the others. The curriculum and associated teaching materials do not stand apart on their own but rather "influence instructional capacity by constraining or enabling students' and teachers' opportunities to learn and teach" (p. 4). In other words, the curriculum not only defines the subject matter teachers teach but also influences the extent to which teachers develop the skills and knowledge necessary to teach students well. Beyond just telling teachers what and how to teach, curriculum materials can help teachers "to think about instruction" (Brophy, 1982, p. 6).
Curriculum discussions in the United States, like the debate over standards-based reform, have often addressed the pros and cons of standardization and compliance rather then the development of teachers' instructional capacity (Cohen Sc Ball, 1996). Some people promote detailed curricula as a means for prescribing teachers' behavior and ensuring effective instruction using proven techniques (Cooper, Slavin, & Madden, 1997), whereas others indict such curricula for constraining professional discretion and thus discouraging effective instruction (Darling-Hammond, 1997; McDonald, 1992).
New teachers might be expected to welcome explicit guidance about what to teach and how to teach it. Past research has indicated that most teachers rely heavily upon commercial curriculum materials such as textbooks and teachers' guides (Brophy, 1982; Goodlad, 1984; Woodward & Elliott, 1990). In a longitudinal study of 6 prospective teachers, Ball and Feiman-Nemser (1988) found that even novices who began student teaching with negative opinions about textbooks and teachers' guides turned to those materials in the absence of other support. In the midst of the heightened scrutiny accompanying the standards movement, new teachers today may be especially likely to seek tangible sources of guidance.
However, there are competing pressures that might lead new teachers to reject such guidance. Previous research documents teachers' interest in maintaining their autonomy over curriculum and pedagogy (Johnson, 1990; Lortie, 1975; McNeil, 1986). Wanting to retain authority over what and how they teach, teachers have been shown to resist mandated curricula and close supervision because of a feeling of professional pride and a fear of losing spontaneity (Jackson, 1990). Of course, access to a specified curriculum does not necessarily mean an obligation to follow it exactly.
Most of the existing literature does not distinguish between new and experienced teachers. One exception is the work of Huberman (1989), who has documented that teachers' attitudes toward curriculum change over the course of their careerwhat begins as a struggle to master the curriculum develops over time into, greater assertion of professional autonomy. Unlike the Swiss teachers Huberman studied, who share a centrally developed curriculum, American teachers often experience the shift from struggle to autonomy alone and with idiosyncratic curricula (Cohen & Ball, 1999).
Much of the U.S. research about teachers' attitudes toward specified curricula was conducted in a context that differs markedly from the one new teachers enter today. That research was conducted prior to the standards-based reform movement, prior to the widespread establishment of alternative routes to teaching which side-step teacher education programs, and prior to pervasive and intense public attention to teacher quality. Furthermore, very little of the available research focuses explicitly on new teachers.
We explored new teachers' experiences with curriculum and assessments by interviewing fifty 1st- and 2nd-year teachers in Massachusetts during the 1999-2000 school year. To ensure that our respondents would represent a range of experiences with curriculum and assessments, we built this sample gradually and purposively, including teachers at traditional public schools and at charter schools; at urban schools and suburban schools; and at elementary, middle, and high schools. Some respondents followed traditional pathways to teaching, by preparing at public and private universities and achieving full state certification; and others followed alternative pathways, such as training in the Massachusetts Teacher Signing Bonus Program3 or teaching at charter schools, which at the time did not require teacher certification in Massachusetts. We sought variety within these groups, as well: The educational programs of the charter schools described by the new teachers differed markedly; signing bonus recipients came from various professional backgrounds and experience levels; and new teachers earned full state certification at undergraduate as well as graduate education programs. Finally, we sought to attain variation and balance in gender, race/ ethnicity, and age. See Table 1.
Data collection involved one 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-hour, semistructured interview with each respondent and a brief survey of information about age, race/ ethnicity, teacher preparation, and years of teaching. The interview protocol was informed by analysis of the literature on new teachers and teachers' work and was designed to elicit new teachers' responses to questions about four main areas: career, incentives and rewards, professional culture, and curriculum and assessment. The data gathered on new teachers' experiences of curriculum and assessment are analyzed here.4 Relevant questions from the protocol are included in the appendix. All interviews were tape recorded and fully transcribed.
In analyzing the data, we employed a multistage coding scheme. First, immediately following each interview, we composed a narrative summary for each respondent, summarizing prominent topics, uncovering emergent themes, noting memorable responses, and describing overall tone. From a holistic and collaborative analysis of the narrative summaries, we were able to track broad themes present in new teachers' accounts of their experiences. After first coding the transcript data according to our main areas of inquiry, we then coded according to a series of subarea codes based on the broad themes we tracked in the narrative summaries, a thorough review of the literature, and preliminary data analysis. The argument presented below is the result of the construction of a series of analytic matrices, composition of analytic memos, and engagement in focused, rigorous discussions. We built theories linking teachers' experiences with curriculum inductively and tested them iteratively, moving back and forth between analysis and conceptualization. Through that process we developed the three broad categories of teachers' experiences with curriculum that we describe in this paper.
It is important to note that this study focused on new teachers' experiences with curriculum and assessments, not on the assessments or the curriculum support, guides, and materials themselves. We did not interview other informants in the districts or schools to verify the presence or absence of curricular supports as described by our respondents. Furthermore, although respondents sometimes showed us their curriculum materials, we did not systematically study them. We did, however, carefully review the state curriculum framework documents and the preparation documents for the state-administered standardized test.
Our sample, designed to discover a range of responses, does not allow us to generalize our findings to all new teachers in the United Stat6s or even in Massachusetts. However, certain themes emerged so strongly and repeatedly in this study, policy makers and practitioners should consider their implications.
Massachusetts is one of 6 states that received an "A" for standards and accountability on the Quality Counts 2000 report card issued by Education Week in collaboration with the Pew Charitable Trusts (Jerald, 2000). An "A" indicates that a state has "clear and specific standards" in the core academic subjects; administers multiple-measure, criterion-referenced assessments aligned to state standards; and holds schools accountable for student performance (p. 84).
The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, which drives standards-based reform in the state and thus shapes the curriculum and assessment context in which our respondents teach, required the state department of education to develop a series of curriculum framework documents that describe state standards for seven subject areas.5 In addition, the legislation created the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), a high-stakes standardized test first administered in 1998 to 4th-, 8th-, and 10th-grade students. The MCAS has direct and indirect consequences for those who perform poorly. Students in the class of 2003 must pass the 10th-grade MCAS as one condition for high school graduation. Also, the state department of education releases aggregate scores for each school, which the media then publicizes widely. Failure rates during the first 2 years were high across the state. Some analysts estimate that over 40% of seniors will have failed the MCAS and, therefore, will not graduate in 2003.
Despite Massachusetts' detailed system of standards and accountability measures, we found that most new teachers we interviewed received little or no guidance about what to teach or how to teach it. Left to their own devices, they struggled day to day to prepare content and materials instead of developing a coherent plan to address long-term objectives. Rather than lamenting a lack of freedom or expressing a need to assert their autonomy, they longed for greater specification of their curriculumboth what to teach and how to teach it.
Furthermore, we found that today's environment of high standards and accountability created a sense of urgency among many new teachers but did not provide them with the support they needed to teach effectively. The curriculum frameworks from the state department of education described academic standards students should achieve; but, unlike a curriculum, it did not include details about specific content, sequence, instructional materials, or pedagogical methods. Yet new teachers reported that many districts and schools relied on these frameworks as the curriculum, rather than as the basis for developing a curriculum. Moreover, state officials had released test questions from the MCAS which teachers and administrators examined for evidence about what to teach.6 Faced with increasing pressure and lacking sufficient material guidance and support, new teachers tended to respond frantically and haphazardly, often working in isolation and hoping for the best.
We present these findings in three sections. In the first, we describe the curriculum void these teachers encountered and their responses to it. We also describe the isolated cases where new teachers did have detailed curricula and discuss the kinds of curricular support they considered helpful. We conclude the first section with a discussion of these new teachers' attitudes toward autonomy and specification. In the second section, we explore the impact of the state standards and accountability movement on new teachers' experiences with curriculum and assessment. We discuss new teachers' responses to the curriculum framework documents the state has created, their struggles with the lack of alignment of curriculum materials to the state standards, their frustration with the number of topics delineated in state standards, and their anxiety resulting from the state assessment. In the third section, we discuss the implications of our findings for retaining new teachers and supporting them in their work and offer recommendation in three arenas: state policy, curriculum research and development, and school-level collaboration among teachers.
THE CURRICULUM VOID
Amy, who taught 2nd grade at an urban elementary school, said she started her first school year with "no set curriculum" for social studies:
No one has ever told me anything I am supposed to cover. They kind of just said, "Here's the books." And even the books, I didn't know where they were. I had to ask for them . . . . No one has ever told me anything that I had to cover. No one has actually even given me the [local district] curriculum. I actually had it, luckily, from a previous, class in college. But no one has ever told me, "You need to teach that."
So how did Amy decide what to teach in social studies? She said, "I kind of made it up on my own." Amy's response is typical of those we heard from the new teachers we interviewed. Some respondents were fresh from college, taking on their first full-fledged career. Others had left another career to enter the-classroom. Some had formal teacher training in a university program and others lacked traditional certification. Regardless of their background, most expected their 1st year to be difficult. They knew that the demands of learning the curriculum for one or several subjects would be a major challengeone they would have to juggle with the daily demands of managing a classroom full of children or adolescents. But most were surprised to find either no curriculum at all or one so vaguely specified as to offer them little of the support they needed.
Most of the teachers in our sample said they either had no curriculum at allleaving them without guidance about both what to teach and how to teach itor a curriculum that included only lists of topics and skills-suggesting only very generally what to teach but not how to teach it. There were exceptions, of course, with a few teachers describing curricula created by outside agencies or created by teachers at the school site that specified both what to teach and how to teach it, but this was rare.
NEITHER WHAT NOR HOWNO CURRICULUM AT ALL
At least one fifth of the new teachers in our sample described receiving no operational curriculum at all, meaning that they were left on their own to decide both what to teach and how to teach it. This most commonly occurred with secondary teachers and with elementary teachers in social studies and science. For example, Steve, who taught science at a suburban charter school, explained, "The curriculum that I was told that I would be teaching is physical sciences. . . . That's all the direction I got." Theresa, who taught at a suburban school, explained that "no one really knows what the curriculum is" for 7th-grade math, which leaves it "pretty much up to the teacher." For these teachers, the curriculum was a blank slate. Other teachers in this group received only a short, general list of themes without specific content. Such lists provided only slightly more structure than nothing at all.
We found that this absence of curriculum could be intentional. Some of the teachers we interviewed work at secondary schools that espouse a philosophy of teacher autonomy and creativity and, thus, deliberately provide no curriculum. For example, Sarah, a secondary teacher at a suburban charter school, explained that her school operated on "the idea that we have to create these neat projects, and we don't have a textbook, and we have to make everything up from scratch." Becky, who taught in a similar setting, said, "We don't go by textbooks." In these schools, the lack of specified topics was deliberate. Teachers were expected to develop topics, objectives, and lessons based on their own interests and the perceived needs or interests of their students. Abe, who worked at the same school as Sarah, described this as freedom coupled with the "responsibility to take in all this stuff, and integrate it on our own, and . . . justify it to ourselves, and to our colleagues."
Whether this lack of a formal curriculum was intentional or not, most of these new teachers found it challengingeven overwhelming. As Theresa said, it is "really hard for a 1st-year teacher coming in" when "no one is really telling you what it is that you need to cover." One teacher described his charter school curriculum as "frustratingly open" and asked, "How are you supposed to come up with curriculum while you teach?" Sarah, who deliberately chose to teach at a school with a very spare curriculum, had become ambivalent by her 2nd year: "Some days I love it, because it's new, and . . . we like to do things differently; and sometimes I hate it because we like to do things differently." For her, the school's philosophy of doing things differently meant constant pressure to create and strong reluctance to draw from existing lessons and materials.
WHAT, BUT NOT HOWTOPICS OR SKILLS ONLY
Over half of our respondents encountered a curriculum that specified topics or skills to be taught but provided no materials or guidance about how to address them. In other words, these curricula described what to teach but not how to teach it. As one respondent said, "It's your baby." Camilla described her suburban middle school English curriculum as "very strict as far as what order you should go in, and which term you should be covering what; but at the same time, it's somewhat vague." This meant, she said, that "[t]hey tell you what you should be teaching, but not how to teach it." Specifically, "if they tell us we have to be reading this novel, you have the novel, and that's it." This level of specification appeared most often in elementary social studies and science, but it was present in many subjects at the secondary level.
Some of the new teachers we interviewed appreciated the flexibility of this arrangement, such as an elementary school teacher who noted that there was "enough room to do it in different ways." Most, however, thought there was insufficient guidance. For example, a suburban middle school .teacher said that this topical curriculum was not something she could "follow week to week or day to day." Carolyn, an urban elementary teacher who otherwise felt very supported at her school, described the curriculum as "very hard to work with" and something she could not just "pick up" and use. Gwen, who taught 4th grade at an urban elementary school, described feeling "lost at sea without any map or anything, without an astronomer to figure out where you were going."
Even when materials and resources are available, they may not provide sufficient guidance. Some of our respondents described not being sure how to organize their materials to create a lesson plan; with so many unrelated books, teachers' guides, and worksheets, they were not sure where to start, given limited time. According to Peggy, who taught 2nd grade in a suburban district,
They gave me stuff, but sometimes when you get all this material, especially a lot of written stuff and books and things, it can be overwhelming because you're looking at it all and thinking, "Where do I start? What do I begin with?" There's no handbook.
Without some assistance or guidance to organize the materials, having too much may be as disorienting as having too little.
THE MAD SCRAMBLE: NEW TEACHERS' RESPONSES TO THE CURRICULUM VOID
In response to having little or no curriculum, our respondents said they spent an inordinate amount of time and money developing their own content and materials from scratch. This occurred amidst expectations that they would learn to maintain discipline, facilitate class discussions, communicate with parents, grade papers, and negotiate the complicated red tape of school. Consumed by the mad scramble to prepare day to day, they had little time or energy to reflect on their teaching practice. Not only did these new teachers have to spend time planning what they would teach and how they would teach it, but often they also had to scavenge for relevant information or materials.
In cases where there was no curriculum or where the curriculum included only topics or skills, these teachers sometimes reported not knowing which details to emphasize and how much depth to pursue. In a quest for guidance, they purchased books, searched the Internet, and went to the library. For example, nobody told Becky what to teach or how to teach at her suburban charter middle school. She knew only that she had to determine the relevant content to teach about "geology, plate tectonics, and earth science stuff." To do this, she collected three textbooks to take home so that she could "read all three and decide for myself which of those I need to teach and which I think are the important concepts." Amanda, a 2nd-year teacher in an urban school, knew what topics to teach but had no materials from which to extract the actual content. She described preparing to teach her 1st graders about the history of religion, which she identified as one of the required topics from her district's social studies curriculum. She said that she "bought a book, and basicallythis sounds crazy, I go home and I read like crazy. . . . I'm learning more than the kids probably, but I go home and I just read what I can on it, and I pluck things out and put some notes together." Sometimes the proper materials existed in these novice teachers' schools but nobody told them where to find it, so they spent hours looking for ittime that might have been better spent choosing and adapting appropriate content from prepared materials and planning how to effectively teach it to their students.
Many new teachers described spending a great deal of time and money preparing instructional materials such as worksheets for their lessons. Some teachers had no materials at all, and others found that the materials they had inadequately covered the particular content they were required to teach. Gwen, who taught 4th grade at a suburban school, described how hard she worked to create units and worksheets for math topics that were not included in the materials provided: "I'm not bitter about that, that's part of my job. But having no resources at all for that, it's very difficult. And then, imagine having to do that for every subject." Although these new teachers were willing to conduct research and to prepare materials for their classes, they recognized their own limits. It was overwhelming, as Gwen said, to do that for every subject, every day, or even for a single subject every day, during a 1st or 2nd year when they were also learning to do the complicated work associated with teaching.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE CURRICULUM VOID: WHAT AND HOWSPECIFIED LESSONS
Only a few of the new teachers we interviewed described having a highly specified curriculum for one or more subjects or classes. These curricula provided detailed lessons that one teacher described as "pretty much scripted." It is important to note that none of the teachers we interviewed said that they had this level of specification for all subjects or classes they taught.
In many cases, the specified curriculum took the form of a textbook the teachers were expected to follow. For example, Jenny, a 4th-grade teacher at an urban charter school, said that her math book "gives you step-by-step, do this, do this." The textbook or lesson plans often came with other instructional resources and materials, which some new teachers found to be very supportive in planning what and how to teach. Amanda, an urban elementary teacher, described her 1st-grade math program as being
pretty straightforward. There's a little bit of prep involved. But you open a book, it will tell you, you know, "Pour this much rice into these two containers and ask the children to describe what they see."
Such step-by-step directions allowed these teachers to feel some degree of confidence, even when teaching a lesson for the first time.
Because many of these 1st- and 2nd-year teachers planned day to day or, at best, week to weekhaving curriculum materials available that they could use on short notice was particularly important to them. Clark described his science curriculum,
I think you could teach this curriculum well . . . if you went in and read the book the night before and got training on how to teach the class . . . . The book is well laid out; the teachers' edition is just fantastic. . . . Really anybody could teach this that has desire and is intelligent and can learn from reading.
These detailed curriculum materials provided the assistance these teachers thought they needed when they did not know what to do or did not have the time to create their own lessons.
Descriptions like Clark's make the specified curriculum sound as if teaching it requires no special thought or skills, but our respondents did not report thoughtlessly using the specified lessons and materials. Although these highly specified curricula provided step-by-step directions, most respondents described having flexibility in whether to take each step. Even with detailed curricula, these new teachers generally reported being able to adapt lessons to match their personal style or their own students' needs. For example, Tanya, an urban elementary teacher, remarked, "Sometimes you don't do exactly what it tells you to do, because you have different kids, or whatever." Even Keisha, after describing a very detailed level of specification for each lesson and a perceived requirement to follow her books and materials page by page, qualified her remarks by saying, "How I choose to teach it is totally up to me." In this group of 50 new teachers, only two reported feeling obligated to exactly follow the prepared lesson structure in at least one subject area.
A COMBINATION OF CURRICULA
It would be an oversimplification to say that all teachers' experiences fit neatly into one of these three levels of specification. Most of the respondents taught multiple subjects or classes, so they often encountered two or more curricula that were quite distinct. For example, one urban high school English teacher had one literature class for which she directly followed the teachers' guide and another for which she received no curricular guidance at all. At the elementary level, one suburban 2nd-grade teacher received a highly specified math program and a minimally specified social studies curriculum but no reading curriculum at all. Taken together, the 50 interviews vividly describe the curriculum void.7
THE DESIRE FOR GREATER SPECIFICATION
Although much of the literature suggests that teachers value their autonomy and do not want to be told what to do, nearly all of these new teachers appreciated what curricular guidance they had or wished for more. One said she wanted a "crutch" to lean on, while another asked for a "central resource" to draw from. They wanted to use and adapt lessons and materials that had proven successful for teachers before them. As one high school history teacher said, "if they had the lessons in the curriculum guide, I'd be all over it." Some teachers who had textbooks said the teachers' guides provided this type of structure; although they generally considered textbooks to be insufficient, since they rarely met their particular students' needs or aligned fully with the state standards they were expected to teach.
In calling for greater specification, these new teachers stopped well short of asking that their every move be dictated. As a suburban middle school teacher stated, "I don't think I would want, necessarily, everything handed to me. But at the same time, having nothing handed to you makes it so much work." These new teachers thought that a more highly specified curriculum would have reduced the frantic and last-minute nature of lesson planning.
In all this uncertainty, these teachers were seeking something proven or established. As a suburban high school history teacher said, "If you want to help a new teacher get off to a good start, . . . don't make him feel like he has to reinvent the wheel." These new teachers were not looking for easy solutions, but they suggested that they were not yet well qualified to design curriculum from scratch. They believed that there were materials available somewhere that provided, as one teacher said, "a plan that seems to work."
Even those who were teaching subjects in which they had strong content knowledge, academic majors, or professional experience longed for guidance about how to convey concepts to students. Clark, a science major with professional experience as a lab manager, taught middle school science at a charter school. His teacher's guide provided detailed day-to-day guidance on teaching an experiment-based curriculum; but he thought that he needed to supplement this curriculum with vocabulary and facts, and he spent a lot of time researching and preparing. Despite his science background, Clark acknowledged that he was not "the guru of science education" and that "a lot of other people have a lot better ideas than I do because they have been doing it a lot longer than I have." Clark and many of the other new teachers we interviewed believed that veteran teachers had much to offer them in lessons that had worked in the past.
In part, these new teachers expressed concern about the burden of planning from scratch; but they also worried that their haphazard approaches shortchanged students. Mary, a mid-career entrant to teaching, expressed this dual concern for herself and for her students. She taught at a school that emphasized innovative ways of teaching and discouraged teachers from using textbooks and commercially prepared materials. While she understood this approach, she found it unworkable for her and unfair to the students:
You are . . . dealing with young people that you don't want to make that many mistakes on. It's not fair to them to sort of be trying all kinds of new things on them to see what works. It's not fair to them.
Mary said that deciding what and how to teach should not be left entirely to a new teacher:
It's up to you, which is insane. (Laughs.) You know, it should be up to you on some level, but how you do it, it shouldn't be totally up to you. Because there are all these other people that have already done it. So, you know, in my opinion, look at what all these other people have done, and then make it yours.
For their own sake and the sake of their students, Mary and some others in our sample wanted their schools to provide them with curriculum materials and methods that had demonstrated success.
This suggests that these new teachers were willing to exchange some of their creative license for greater structure, but they were not looking to simply follow a script. Instead, they wanted to retain flexibility within a supportive structure; they wanted some scaffolding to support their own development. They reserved the right to adapt the prepared curriculum and materials to their own unique styles and to the specific needs of their students. Although the new teachers generally acknowledged their limited expertise as classroom teachers, they asserted their authority over what their students needed; they believed that nobody knew their students better than they did.
Many of the teachers in our sample believed that greater specificity would open the way for creativity rather than obstruct it. By being free from the burden of developing complete lessons every day for several subjects or several grade levels, the new teachers could concentrate on doing a small number of original lessons well. Brenda, a 1st-year Spanish teacher in an urban middle school, explained: "I feel like if I had more guidance in what the areas are that I need to be teaching, . . . I could then have more freedom as far as how I teach it."
Some respondents reported having such a balance of freedom and structure across different classes or subjects. When one curriculum is carefully laid out, a teacher has more time to prepare for another class with a looser curriculum. For example, Patricia, an urban high school English teacher, taught two different courses of high school English. For her three sections of one course, she felt obligated to follow the textbook day by day. For the other, where she had no curriculum, syllabus, or books, she spent hours preparing. Together, the two courses offered a balance of freedom and structure. As she described it, "I have the best of both worlds. [In one class,] I feel like I have too much structure. But I have so much freedom with my other class that I'm okay. I feel balanced." Having a structure in place for one course left Patricia some time and energy to cope with having a blank slate for another. Patricia enjoyed the creative aspects of building her own curriculum, but perhaps her students might have been better served if she experienced that balance of structure and freedom within each course instead of across the two courses.
Most of the respondents took a developmental perspective, saying they would no longer need specified curricula when they gained more experience. Hannah, who followed highly prescribed lesson plans in teaching reading and math to 4th-graders, explained that "right now, being a first year teacher, it's wonderful to have all these things in place for me." She said that she lacked the experience to distinguish what would work and what would not but expected that to change over time. Then, she would decide whether to continue following the required curriculum based on how well her students did.
THE INTERACTION OF STATE STANDARDS AND CURRICULA
Most of those teachers who had a curriculum of some sort said that it, at least in part, addressed state standardsthe Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, the MCAS testing objectives, or both. In general, however, our respondents reported that these policy instruments introduced more confusion than support for them as new teachers. They offered three major reasons for this. First, they often were expected to use the curriculum frameworks in lieu of an actual curriculum. Second, if curricula and teachers' guides were at the school site, those materials did not fully align with the curriculum frameworks. And third, the state frameworks covered too much content. We explore these three concerns here and then describe the new teachers' responses to the standards-based pressure.
CURRICULUM FRAMEWORKS SANS CURRICULUM
According to the Massachusetts Department of Education (1997), "A curriculum framework is not a curriculum" (p. 131). This means that the framework communicates the state standards, and the "schools and their teachers" determine the curriculum and methods to be used. Local districts might also develop a more specific curriculum based on the state standards. The authors of the framework encourage teachers to plan collaboratively within their schools and to rely heavily on textbooks and other available resources to provide content and sequence. These statements echo the language in the essay by Smith and O'Day (1991) that helped to define the standards-based reform movement. However, Smith and O'Day also recommend that districts offer professional development for new and experienced teachers, sponsor curriculum development, and provide adequate materials at the school level. The curriculum frameworks, they contend, "should provide a way of organizing a coherent instructional guidance system" (p. 248). The new teachers we interviewed described little evidence of access to a "coherent instructional guidance system."
A handful of new teachers reported planning with their" colleagues in a manner consistent with the recommendation of the curriculum frameworks. In such schools, according to our respondents, teachers worked within and across grades to develop school-level curricula intended to provide structure and support for teachers now and in the future. For example, Mia and Helen described using the state frameworks to develop the curricula at their suburban charter middle school. Rather than just adopting the state frameworks as the curriculum, the faculty continued to collaboratively create course projects that addressed the standards they had chosen to emphasize in depth. Helen explained, "We've sort of all decided together what we are going to do, [so] the expectations are really ours." Mia described the resulting clarity: "There is a very clear idea of, curriculum-wise and content-wise, what is expected." In this example, the new teachers did not simply receive a prepared curriculum. Instead, they participated in developing the curriculum in collaboration with the rest of the faculty. Helen described how working collaboratively supported her teaching: "If I didn't have the group there, I probably would be suffering since I'm fairly new in the field. But I do, and it's nice." However, this type of collaboration proved to be the exception rather than the rule among the teachers we interviewed.
Many more new teachers described receiving copies of the curriculum frameworks and then being left alone to implement them. As stated earlier, the most common curriculum these new teachers encountered was one that told them what to teach but not how. In most of these cases, the "what" was defined by the state curriculum frameworks, the local curriculum guide, or both. Our respondents suggested that the frameworks by themselves were inadequate to guide their decisions about what and how to teach. Tanya, a 2nd-grade elementary teacher in an urban school, summarized the problem in a manner typical of our respondents:
State frameworks, by definition, are very general. . . . They. . . sort of [tell you] "This is what you should be covering." It doesn't give you any idea of how to do it, or what the time line is, or how other people are doing it, what works, or what didn't work.
Receiving few specifics about what to teach and no suggestions about how to teach, these new teachers had to devise their own plans for addressing the state standards.
Without more specific curricula or adequate guidance and resources to translate the curriculum frameworks into curricula, state standards and accountability only served to frustrate new teachers. When Gail said, "You want me to teach this stuff, but I don't have the stuff to teach," she was anticipating her 4th-grade students taking the MCAS in the spring. The frameworks and high-stakes test introduced pressure without proven pedagogy and a mandate without materials.
LACK OF ALIGNMENT AND STABILITY
In situations where new teachers did have materials such as textbooks to accompany the curriculum frameworks, they often said that the two were not aligned; the books or other materials did not cover the same content as the state's frameworks. Laura, a 1st-year science teacher at an urban middle school, described the problem succinctly: "Either I am reading the standards wrong or the book; it doesn't match." However, this challenge extended beyond the alignment of books to standards. Laura had studied the frameworks for the state, her own district's standards, and the MCAS standards and found that "they don't all mesh. . . . they don't always hit the same thing."
In addition, many of these new teachers encountered curricula that were in flux, either because schools were in the process of responding to the state standards and assessment or because the state standards were themselves changing. We do not know whether there were established curricula in place before the adoption of state standards; but according to these new teachers, there was little stability now. Because veterans and novices alike may be encountering new expectations, this time of change might provide an ideal opportunity for schools to collaboratively develop new curricula in the manner suggested by the state curriculum frameworks. Everyone might benefit from the wisdom of the veterans and the fresh perspective of the novices. However, very few of these teachers said this was happening. Instead, veteran teachers appeared to be left alone to adapt to the new requirements or ignore the changes; and new teachers were left alone wondering what to do.
Furthermore, although a school might respond effectively to the onetime introduction of standards, many of our respondents described disorienting changes from one year to the nextparticularly in the history and social science standards. Second-year teachers said they had just become familiar with the social science curriculum framework only to find the topics changed completely the next year. For example, Gwen, a 4th-grade teacher, explained how she was initially told to teach about Native Americans but then was supposed to teach about the Renaissance instead. Even a teacher's best efforts to gather and master the material are lost when the curriculum does not remain steady.
TOO MUCH TO COVER
Teachers also emphasized that there was simply too much to cover, primarily in history and social science. The state's curriculum framework for that subject suggests that teachers cover some of the topics in depth while simply introducing others (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1997), but the pressure for students to achieve high scores on the state test undermined this recommendation. Some respondents were frustrated by having to teach so many topics and resented being asked to do the impossible. Robert, a history teacher at a suburban high school, expressed the view of many when he called the standards "mind-bogglingly comprehensive and vague." Bernie, another history teacher at a suburban high school, said that he was required to cover world studies from Rome through the French Revolution in one course"just about two thousand years of history in one hundred and eighty days or less." Amanda, whose urban school placed great emphasis on MCAS scores, described the broad social science standards in 1st grade, where she was expected to teach "all the way from the Ice Age with hunters and nomads coming over the land bridge into Vikings and Explorers, Native Americans, first three colonies, all thirteen in the colonization, and then the Revolution into how we became America. The list goes on." Although she realized that she was not expected to cover every topic in detail, she still received no guidance about the specific content to teach for each topic.
Others said that the amount of material they had to cover interfered with their creativity or prevented them from exploring other worthwhile topics with their students. For Jake, a suburban middle school history teacher, it was not just a question of whether he could cover the material but what he had to sacrifice to do so. He said that there were so many topics to cover, introducing anything new meant that he had to cut something else.
ANXIETY AND A FOCUS ON THE TEST
In response to these demands that came without support, many new teachers described haphazardly trying to cover everything by piecing together test-related materials and by using specific MCAS questions as the basis for instruction. Over two thirds of the teachers we interviewed said that the state assessment affected their instruction even when students in their grades were not tested. A few saw this as a positive effect. For others, however, the demand to successfully teach the material in the frameworks was overwhelming in the absence of greater clarity and support.
Laura was typical in her conscientious efforts to teach according to the state standards. After discovering that her middle school science textbook was not aligned to the MCAS testing objectives, which themselves were not well aligned to the state curriculum frameworks or to the district standards, she purchased additional books and began to design all her own lessons. Even so, she was concerned that by targeting a few topics in depth she could not cover everything her students would need to know for the test; but she was more concerned that, without deep understanding, her students would not comprehend the MCAS questions. She described teaching at her school as "confusing, and tiring, and exhausting. And during the week, I don't do anything else." This was what she expected, she said, so she did not complain; yet she expressed a wish for more structure, even daily lesson plans to guide her. .
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
These new teachers often were overwhelmed by the responsibility and demands of designing curriculum and planning daily lessons. They entered the classroom expecting to find a curriculum with which they would struggle. Instead, they struggled to find a curriculum. Whatever confidence they may have had when they entered teaching was undermined daily as they realized that they did not really know what they were supposed to teach, that they had no instructional guides, that they lacked ready access to resources that might enhance their own subject knowledge, and that their private knapsack of instructional strategies was virtually empty. In response, these eager and anxious novices searched the Internet, eavesdropped on conversations to discover what other teachers did, photocopied frantically, spent hours preparing handouts, scoured library shelves for relevant background reading, and spent their own money on materials that would help them get by for a day or a week.
The environment of new standards and accountability heightened the challenge they faced and the anxiety they felt. Nineteen of our 50 respondents had been assigned to teach subjects and grade levels where the MCAS was administered, thus intensifying their need to find out what to do and to do it right. They reported feeling pressure to teach something but were not sure just what that something was or how they should do it. State officials have made it clear that teachers are publicly accountable for teaching their students the prescribed content and skills, but the state frameworks themselves do not constitute a curriculum. At many schools, however, the curriculum frameworks, local standards, or MCAS testing objectives served as a surrogate for curriculum and were all that new teachers received or could find. These documents may outline objectives and topics and they may include test items designed to assess students' proficiency, but they offer no strategies for teachers. Therefore, not only were these inexperienced teachers left on their own to choose content, devise strategies, and prepare materials, but they had to do so knowing that their failure to get it right from the start could compromise their school's MCAS ranking and lead to public embarrassment. The stakes are high and the supports are few.
Those who believe that new standards and assessments have stimulated the development of detailed curricula or otherwise mobilized curricular support for new teachers may be surprised by these findings and think that they exaggerate the problem. However, we heard the same accounts from new teachers in all types of districts and all sorts of schools. Obviously, this curriculum void has major implications for the students in these teachers' classrooms who, despite a year of instruction, learn less than they might. One teacher observed with some concern, "I feel terrible for the kids I have this year, because they are my experiment, and they are me learning, and they fall through the cracks because of that."
Yet these conditions also have implications for the challenge of retaining promising teachers in the face of a serious teacher shortage. The pain of failing in the classroom is intensified by the prospect of public exposure, which may cause many new teacherswho might have succeeded with more supportto exit quickly for other lines of work. Nationally, one in five new teachers leaves within the first 3 years (Olson, 2000). If our respondents' accounts are at all typical of new teachers' experiences nationally, this uncertainty regarding curriculum surely contributes to the rapid turnover. Given the variety of alternative careers in today's changing economy and the high opportunity costs that new teachers associate with teaching, it is important that newly recruited teachers attain some intrinsic rewards early on in their careers. Moreover, if the turnover increases and the shortage persists, there will be an even more urgent need to carefully orient new teachers to the curriculum, rather than simply turning unprepared teachers loose in school.
The simplestand most simplisticresponse to the curriculum void would be greater specification of what and how to teachperhaps even the provision of daily lessons, as Chicago recently has done (Johnston, 1999; Steinberg, 1999). It is clear that most of our respondents who lack detailed curricular guidance desire it, and most who have such guidance appreciate it. It is not clear, however, whether such guidance will make them better teachers in the long run. Some critics of textbooks, standards, and other forms of curricular specification argue that such supports "deskill" teachers, even if the teachers themselves voluntarily accept them (Apple Sc Junck, 1990; McNeil, 1986). Apple and Junck (1990) explain,
In the immediate context, some teachers may interpret [a prepackaged curriculum] as helpful and appreciate it as a resource. But in the broader context, it deprives teachers of a vital component of the curriculum process. Over time, these short-term compensatory practices function as deprivations because they limit the intellectual and emotional scope of teachers' work. (p. 248)
Other opponents of specification argue that teaching is inherently an uncertain craft and that artificially introducing certainty oversimplifies the complexity of teaching and prevents teachers from facing the challenges that will help them to grow and develop (Floden & Clark, 1988; McDonald, 1992).
Our respondents accounts suggest that this cannot be an either/or choice between scripted lessons and no curriculum. While we resist calls for formulaic specification of teaching practice, we also reject the premise that new teachers should start with little or nothing to guide them, particularly given the current context of standards and accountability. Cohen and Ball (1999) note that only some educators respond well to loose specification: "The less well-specified and developed instructional policies and interventions are, the more they leave to be invented, improvised, and figured outor unwittingly ignored . . . What is left underspecified or underdeveloped matters" (p. 39). These authors further note that, in most cases, having "little guidance . . . does not promote [educators'] autonomy or creativity, but weak learning and enactment" (p. 39). Porter (1989), an early advocate of external standard setting, argues that the education system can provide the necessary support and resources including instructional materials for teachers and students to meet the standards without compromising individual professional discretion in matters of pedagogical practice (p. 354). In other words, a well-designed curriculum can be specific without being rigid or simplistic.
We recommend action in three arenas: state policy, curriculum research and development, and collaboration around curriculum at the school site.
This study of new teachers' experiences with curriculum, while not explicitly about the wisdom of standards-based reform, does have implications for the movement. Our findings suggest strongly that state legislators and officials must go beyond simply developing standards and assessments. If they accept the premise of standards-based reform, then they must take seriously their responsibility to support its implementation in districts and schools where the development of curriculum and instructional materials, both with and for teachers, and ongoing high-quality professional development are essential (see Smith & O'Day, 1991). The point Is not to script the classes of new teachers. Rather, it is to provide new teachers with a basic set of instructional structures, strategies, and materials so that they can refine their own teaching style and respond effectively to the varied needs of their students. According to many of our respondents, greater specification would open up creative opportunities by providing a structure around which they could improvise. As Cohen and Ball (1996) observe, "Specification need not impede practitioners' autonomy or inventiveness; like any materials for learning, specification of an intervention can either open up or constrain opportunities to invent and exercise autonomy" (p. 19). It depends upon what is specified and what is left to the discretion of the individual teachers.
CURRICULUM RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
But what should be specified and what should be left to teachers' discretion? A growing body of theory and empirical research suggests that curriculum materials can be specified such that their use deliberately fosters teacher learning, particularly for new teachers, thus building the capacity to exercise greater professional discretion in the future (Ball Sc Cohen, 1996; Collopy, 2000; Remillard, 2000; Russell, 1997). Curriculum materials with detailed information that supports teachers in making instructional decisions, rather than simply prescribing regimented teacher activity, may help teachers themselves learn about content, pedagogy, and student learning (Cohen & Ball, 1999; Kilpatrick, Swafford, & Findell, 2001). Additional research is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of existing materials, to better understand the conditions that make the materials effective, and to develop additional materials in various academic subject areas.
Our interviews suggest that new teachers today desire the structure and support that specified curriculum materials can provide. In the context of a worsening teacher shortage, when new teachers may or may not be trained in pedagogy and may or may not be teaching in the subjects they know best, such support will likely become ever more important. There are alternatives to prepackaged curriculum materials, however.
COLLABORATION AROUND CURRICULUM AT THE SCHOOL SITE
Throughout our interviews, respondents not only cited their current need for more detailed curricular support; but they also imagined a day when no help would be necessary, when they could abandon these teachers' training wheels that marked them as beginners. They envisioned gaining more skill and confidence and, with time, entering the world of accomplished practitioners. As they struggled to plan daily lessons, many new teachers wished they were better able to access the wisdom of the veteran teachers in their buildings.
A small number of our respondents worked in settings that were structured to encourage regular discussions about curriculum and instruction among teachers at all levels of experience. In such schools, where good fortune and individual initiative were not the sole determinants of whether new teachers received assistance, veteran teachers were engaged with their novice colleagues in developing the very kinds of supports that new teachers said they needed. A close look at these schools might reveal that experienced teachers also benefit from the continuous process of developing and refining curriculum and instructional strategies. Our findings suggest that such school-based collaboration around curriculum development would go a long way towards orienting new teachers to their curriculum and helping them figure out what to teach and how to teach it.
As U.S. schools deal with the simultaneous demands of supporting large numbers of new teachers and ensuring that all students achieve at high levels, it is critical that we effectively support new teachers in mastering the curricula they teach. These conditions present an opportunity to establish a new model for professional culture in schoolsone that engages all teachers in the important, ongoing work of developing curriculum and improving teaching practice.
APPENDIX: CURRICULUM-RELATED QUESTIONS EXCERPTED FROM THE INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
1. Before I get into the specific questions, I would like to get a general sense of your experience. How's it going?
8. Can you describe the type of support you've received as a new teacher, either within the school or the district?
● Is the support you received what you needed?
14. Do you have a curriculum that you are expected to follow?
● What kinds of things does it specify? (general goals, specific topics, specific lessons, how to use time?)
● In your view, is it a good curriculum? Why? (depth, structure, support, ideas, resources, creativity, results, consistency) Do you like using it? Does it work well for your students?
● Does anyone check to see that you're following the curriculum?
● Some people think that their curriculum provides too little freedom and some think that their curriculum provides too little structure. What do you think? NO
● How do you decide what to teach and how to teach?
● In your view, does this process of deciding what to teach and how to teach it work well for you? Do you think this works well for your students?
● Does anyone monitor what you're teaching?
● Some people think that their curriculum provides too little freedom and some think that their curriculum provides too little structure. What do you think?
15. Are there tests you are required to give to your students?
● How closely are they tied to what you teach?
● How are the results used?
● Do the tests affect what and how you teach?
● Does the MCAS affect what you teach and how you teach it?
16. Do you feel sufficiently prepared to teach in the way you're expected to teach here?
● Where do you go for information or advice about what and how to teach?
21. These are the four topics we are researching: Teacher Careers, Professional Culture, Curriculum and Assessment, and Incentives and Rewards. Given these topics, is there anything else that you would like to add?
The research reported here was made possible by a grant from the Spencer Foundation. The data, findings, and views presented are solely the responsibility of the authors. The authors are grateful to Sarah Birkeland for her careful review and thoughtful recommendations on earlier drafts.
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DAVID KAUFFMAN is an advanced doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research assistant with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Building on his experience as a classroom teacher and his training as a school principal, Kauffman's primary research interests are teachers' professional development, school leadership, and education policy. Recent publications include "Counting on Colleagues: New Teachers Encounter the Professional Cultures of Their Schools" (Educational Administration Quarterly, 2001) and "The Next Generation of Teachers: Changing Conceptions of a Career in Teaching" (Phi Delta Kappan, forthcoming).
SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON is the Carl H. Phorzheimer, Jr. Professor of Education in Learning and Teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the principal investigator for the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Johnson studies school organization, educational policy, leadership, and change in school systems. Recent publications include Leading to Change: The Challenge of the New Superintendence (1996) and "Can Professional Certification for Teachers Reshape Teaching as a Career?" (Phi Delta Kappan, January 2001).
SUSAN M. KARDOS is an advanced doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research assistant with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Kardos works on policy issues that affect teacher recruitment, support, and retention with a particular interest in professional culture, school leadership, and teacher unions. Recent publications include "Counting on Colleagues: New Teachers Encounter the Professional Cultures of Their Schools" (Educational Administration Quarterly, 2001) and "The Next Generation of Teachers: Changing Conceptions of a Career in Teaching" (Phi Delta Kappan, forthcoming).
EDWARD LIU is an advanced doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research assistant with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. His research interests center on teacher hiring, organizational theory, school reform, leadership, and the nonprofit sector. Recent publications include "The Next Generation of Teachers: Changing Conceptions of a Career in Teaching" (Phi Delta Kappan, forthcoming) and "Counting on Colleagues: New Teachers Encounter the Professional Cultures of Their Schools" (Educational Administration Quarterly, 2001).
HEATHER G. PESKE is an advanced doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research assistant with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Peske studies new teachers, alternative certification programs, education policy, and issues related to teacher supply and quality. Recent publications include "The Next Generation of Teachers: Changing Conceptions of a Career in Teaching" (Phi Delta Kappan, forthcoming) and "Counting on Colleagues: New Teachers Encounter the Professional Cultures of Their Schools" (Educational Administration Quarterly, 2001).