Lisa Hantman is in her first year of teaching third grade at McCall Elementary School. She has taught in the School District of Philadelphia for 16 years.
Hantman said last year at her previous school was the hardest year she has had in her 20-year teaching career. As a veteran teacher, she had seen many new curricula come and go. But she said that by the first week in September, she knew this new curriculum was different.
"The fact that they actually gave out materials [and] the fact that they were going to test kids every six weeks with a standardized test - that was a big deal."
Hantman found aspects she liked in the new curriculum, particularly the guides that tell teachers what skills and topics they should cover each week.
"They are very organized and clear-cut. I found it comforting to know what [the District] wanted kids to know by a certain date."
However, Hantman also had serious concerns.
"They asked us to start the pacing guide on day one, and you cannot start anything on day one except bonding a class. That was devastating, and it showed throughout my school.. There was no community in the classroom," she said.
In addition, the traditional lack of monitoring persisted. "Nobody ever came into my classroom, and nobody ever questioned my lesson plans," she added.
Hantman noted that her own approach to teaching differs markedly from the core curriculum. "I do a lot of innovative stuff.. I teach the skills I am supposed to teach, but I don't use a textbook," she said.
Nevertheless, Hantman's thematic approach to teaching accomplishes all of the same goals as the District's curriculum, and her students score as well as peers on standardized tests.
"The difference," Hantman said, "is that my kids leave my room with an appreciation for reading and for books. Ninety percent of them leave my room believing they can write in a way that they didn't believe they could write before and believing they have something to say to the world."