New York City’s education department recently began setting the stage for superintendents to choose from just three reading programs to use across their districts. It is also putting out a standardized algebra program in many high schools. The plans have not been announced publicly. This would mark a tremendous shift in the nation’s largest school system.
Principals historically have enjoyed the freedom to select curriculums. Supporters of this liberty say it allows schools to nimbly tailor to their students. Critics, including some experts and school chancellors, have argued that this only leads to wildly inconsistent quality of learning.
It seems that the detractors are winning this debate.
By September 2024, city officials are anticipated to mandate all elementary schools to use one of three reading programs: Wit & Wisdom, from a company called Great Minds; Into Reading from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; or Expeditionary Learning, from EL Education.
Local superintendents will pick which curriculum is appropriate for their elementary schools; some principals said they’ve already been informed of which curriculum was chosen.
Separately, the city is instituting a standardized algebra curriculum from Illustrative Mathematics at more than 150 high schools.
School leaders and experts said the effort to standardize reading curriculums has some clear, tangible upsides. After all, fewer curriculums means that it would be easier to ensure they are up to snuff, that there’d always be adequate materials, and that if a student switches schools they won’t need to adjust.
But the policy change is raising red flags.
Some department administrators say there has been sparse transparency about how tactfully those three curriculums were chosen or how educators will be trained to teach them. One of the curriculums, Into Reading, was criticized in a NYU report for not being culturally responsive.
Henry Rubio, the president of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, said officials at his union have asked the education department whether they will provide exemptions for schools that have done well over the past few years. They have not yet received a reply but plan to hold a meeting with officials this week.
The union, which represents principals and other administrators, has also raised concerns about a fast-approaching deadline early next month for purchasing education materials.
“We believe it may already be too late for many schools to begin the preparation and training necessary to effectively launch new curriculum in the 2023-2024 school year,” union officials wrote in a newsletter to members last week. “CSA continues to escalate principals’ objections about superintendents mandating curriculum to the Chancellor’s team. As instructional leaders, principals know what is best for their school community.”
An education department spokesperson did not respond to questions about the curriculum mandates. They instead said they are working with educators, parents, and advocates to manage the transition.
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