My Epic Journey through the Curriculum (Part 2)
Part of me becoming the high school math teacher at Las Palmas Christian School was simply filling a need, but the other part was that it gave me a real identity within the organization. Part of my responsibilities as HS math teacher soon became head of the math department for the school. My job was to keep everything flowing in the right direction and lend assistance and training to the elementary and middle school teachers when needed. The nature of the school in the DR is that many teachers sign a one-year contract and then move back to the States, so new teachers are always coming in. Unfortunately, I had no experience for this role I found myself in, so I decided to go back to school to earn my master’s degree in math education. That decision, ultimately, lead me to where I am now. . . working on my doctorate in learning design, and still searching for more answers.
What I have found since I started studying education more in-depth over these past 6 years is that there is a lot to be said about curriculum. It’s a little (okay, a lot!) overwhelming, even for someone who is dedicating large chunks of time to studying it. One of the greatest problems I see in the broad education field is when there is no continuity in the curriculum. I have seen companies outsource certain parts of their training and try to do others in-house, and it always seems to end in employees not being on the same page. I have done several case studies where school districts have brought in new people that did sweeping changes and when they didn’t work, they just bring in someone else who changes everything again.
This type of management can be seen in professional sports. I have the dubious distinction of being a Detroit Lions fan. This was not really a choice I made, but rather a scourge that I have lived with since birth. You see, I was born in Michigan in 1975, nearly 20 years after the Lions won their last championship. Now, 45 years later, it has been 65 years since the Lions won their last championship. I have said many times that the Lions have been rebuilding since 1957. It’s so bad that they have only won one solitary playoff game in my entire 45 year lifetime, and that was only because Barry Sanders (The G.O.A.T. RB, but that’s another blog post), was on the team. Okay, I digress. . . here’s my point. Over my lifetime, every 3 years, the Lions completely change everything. New coaches, new general managers, even new players. Just this year, they fired their coach AGAIN and hired a whole new staff. I have little to no hope that this time will be any different than last time, or the time before that, or the time before that. What the Lions need is to find a system and commit to the system . . . long term. Look at any great sports dynasty and you will see one thing is true about every single one. They had the same coach, star players, general manager, and most importantly, system, throughout. Now some can change one of those things and still find success, but the most important part of sustained success is loyalty to your system.
Unfortunately, I see homeschool parents make the mistake of changing curriculum year after year in search of the “magic” textbook that will revolutionize their child’s educational path. Do you want to know what I have learned about curriculum the more I have studied it? Almost all of it works. Ya, you heard me right! . . . It all works. If a curriculum gets published and distributed, then it has typically been written by people that have studied education and they have used data to determine points that will work with most students. What doesn’t work is changing curriculum every year. Most curriculum takes years to see results. The hard part is powering through the first few years where there are limited results. We did not see results the first year we implemented the Abeka Books. In fact, it was really quite the opposite. We faced a mountain of challenges when we brought in the new books. Students were overwhelmed with the many differences. The pace of Abeka is extremely fast, so many students were getting left behind. Their English was far too advanced for many of our bilingual students, and in the first year we used it, it looked like we had made a huge mistake. Let me fast forward 8 years and tell you the results that they are currently seeing at Las Palmas. Every year, they have students place in the city-wide “Math Olympics” (as well as other subjects). One student went all the way to the National competition and placed 3rd. Every year, they have students get full-ride academic scholarships to US universities. Las Palmas students are getting well over average scores on the ACT and SAT tests, and are highly sought after in the job market in their own county due to their high-level proficiency in English and other critical subjects.
I do not attribute the success of the Las Palmas students solely to Abeka Books. I mean, they've also had their failures along the way, so not everything is a bed of roses. We could all tell stories about our favorite curriculum and how students that use that curriculum are finding success at different levels. The fact is, all curriculum works and all curriculum fails. So what is the “Magic Sauce” that parents should be in search of? (I think I will write another blog post called "The Magic Sauce" . . . I like that title!) The magic happens when you decide on a system, then work to master the system. The magic happens when every part of your organization (or home) is working in conjunction together for the same goals and purposes. Parents need to stop looking for a magical book that is going to elevate their child to genius status overnight and start focusing on choosing a curriculum that they can intertwine into their family's DNA. A curriculum that they can actually use in the way it is intended to be used. Remember, most curriculum is designed to be taught by a professional teacher who focuses 40 hours a week on a single subject. Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart and takes much more work than most people think. Each family should choose the curriculum that is best suited for their unique situation. Every student is different, and every parent is different, so choose the one that works best for your family. Do the research on the front end, be confident in your decision, and then work your system! Don’t be like the Detroit Lions and wallow in doubt and self-pity about the poor choices they’ve made, only to make a worse choice by changing everything for next year.
Let me circle back and answer the question from the first part of the blog post. What do I think of Abeka Books now? Well, that’s a tricky question because I still firmly believe that they are a quality, Christian textbook. (In fact, if you haven’t checked out their new line of math text, you really need to. They are excellent, IMO.) Will my kids use Abeka next year? There’s a good chance that we do stick with them because my kids have been in that system their entire lives. I am already uprooting them for everything they have ever known and moving them across an ocean. Remember, we moved to the Dominican Republic when the twins were 2 and our son was 5. I think changing the curriculum at this point could cause significant challenges for them. I will not, however, be using Abeka because I think that it is the best or only curriculum that works. I will be using it to keep my kids in the system that is working for them.
At APEX Christian Academy, we are committed to helping you find the system that works for you. We want to help you work your system, not change your system. That is why we will be teaching from the standards that all textbooks are written from. We will find ways to teach the material to your children that is common in all textbooks and useful to them on standardized testing, in college, and for their lives. Some classes, by their nature, may require us to have a standard text that we use (like history or literature), but for the most part, we will work with what you are using in order to help your children find success.