St. Paul parent: Aligned Learning limits teacher creativity


While the teachers union and administrators seem to agree with St. Paul’s Aligned Learning program, one parent isn’t happy with it. Beth Black, who has three kids in St. Paul schools, sees Aligned Learning as a movement toward too much uniformity. Black has one student at Central, one at Expo Elementary and one at a charter school in St. Paul. She said that she’s definitely noticed the changes over the past few years.

Aligned Learning has some similarities to the Focused Instruction program in Minneapolis Public Schools, but its implementation has been different. In St. Paul, the standards are more general, and the approach seems to be one of collaboration rather than district mandates to teachers. In St. Paul, for example, there’s no mandate for specific numbers of professional development days devoted to the program or for uniform, computerized end-of-unit tests for students. The TC Daily Planet Focus on Teaching section has more information about both Managed Instruction and Aligned Learning. 

Black said she feels that in the past few years the curriculum, and in particular the Mondo Reading curriculum used for K-5 students, “sucks the creative energy out of the curriculum that I happen to love at my school.” 

In the past, Black said she liked the personal touch that a teacher might bring to a classroom. An “international flair,” for example, from a teacher from Finland, or other teachers adding fun flavors, much of which “has been sucked out of the curriculum due to these changes,” she said. 

Black said she can’t imagine teachers love being told what to do every day. “I feel like my kids’ teachers have been really good enthusiastic and creative teachers. I have appreciated the more cultural curriculum piece, and I feel that’s gone by the wayside,” she said. 

That’s partly because there’s “no time for that stuff any more,” Black said. “Everything is scripted.”

For example, Expo used to have something called Theater of Learning, where teachers from the school would create their own mini classes from pets to ocean life to Hmong language to Ultimate Frisbee. “That’s all gone,” Black said. It ended three years ago, the same year Aligned Learning was implemented. 

Other things that have gone by the wayside include a Greek Culture experience, where the kids dressed up in togas and created mini sculptures of what the Greek arenas looked like, as well as a Chinese New Year celebration.  “Fun curriculum doesn’t fit into the standards,” she said.