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After major flubs, city revamps curriculum delivery process

Patrick Wall

After botched deliveries hobbled schools as they tried to adopt new curriculums last year, the city Department of Education has overhauled the way schools will order and receive city-recommended teaching materials this year.

But the department did not amend its list of endorsed Common Core curriculums, despite educators’ criticism about the ones recommended last year. Nor will it help schools change their curriculum choices.

Publishers will now ship student books, teacher guides, and other materials directly to the elementary and middle schools that order them, rather than to city-contracted delivery companies as was the case last year. Schools will now be able to track the status of those shipments, which should arrive in July, according to a department memo sent to principals last week. And schools will be able to monitor in real-time how much money they have available to spend on materials when they begin ordering next month.

The changes follow widespread glitches in curriculum delivery this year, the first that city schools were encouraged to buy curriculums aligned to the new Common Core learning standards. Books arrived months late at some schools, frustrating teachers’ efforts to plan ahead for the year. Other schools received incomplete or incorrect orders. At South Bronx Preparatory, for example, teachers had to photocopy the first several chapters of a novel that students needed for the first reading unit but did not arrive until October.

Since taking office in January, Chancellor Carmen Fariña has discussed the new standards and curriculums with educators across the city, including principals who voiced concerns not just about the bungled deliveries but also about the materials themselves.

“As I visit many of your schools and talk with you at events around the city, I hear your concerns regarding Core Curriculum materials and supports,” Fariña wrote in last week’s memo. “We have undertaken significant efforts to respond to and address the feedback that we have received from you thus far.”

With a financial incentive in place, about 90 percent of elementary and middle schools decided to purchase curriculums that the city endorsed this year. But some schools have reported problems with the design of the materials, not just their delivery.

The complaints range from small errors in student workbooks to more fundamental concerns — especially, that the content in the new curriculums is beyond the abilities of many students, particularly ones with special needs. ReadyGen, an elementary school literacy curriculum produced for the city by the publisher Pearson, attracted more criticism than some of the other recommended programs.

During a meeting with Fariña in January, principals from around the city called out ReadyGen as “problematic,” requested more curriculum options tailored to students with special needs, and asked for more professional development, according to a written summary of the meeting. They also reported a lack of Common Core-related support for high schools and noted that the city has not recommended any high school-level curriculums tied to the standards.

In the memo, Fariña pledges to launch “a comprehensive review” to find additional Common Core materials and to improve the existing ones. She has also promised more training.

But in the end, the education department decided to stick with ReadyGen and its other recommended curriculums for next school year.

It also did not recommend any Common Core materials for high schools. “A lot of the high school people did not want a curriculum,” Fariña said in an interview with Chalkbeat New York last month. “They wanted to develop their own.” She said one idea is to help high schools share teacher-made materials with one another.

Last year, elementary and middle schools that opted to buy the recommended materials received city money to supplement the annual curriculum funds they receive from the state. But this year, schools that are unhappy with a curriculum they chose and want to switch to a different recommended option will not receive any city subsidies, the memo to principals said.

Some of the city-recommended materials have been revised. For example, ReadyGen’s teacher’s guide, student journals, teaching-strategies handbook, and assessment guide have all been updated based on teacher feedback, according to a spokesman.

Some educators remain skeptical of the endorsed curriculums.

Katie Lapham, a teacher who works with English-language learners at P.S. 214 in Brooklyn and who has criticized the ReadyGen materials, said she was not convinced that the revisions would amount to more than minor tweaks.

“Will they also address our concerns about the texts and the performance tasks/questions that we feel are developmentally inappropriate and uninspiring?” she wrote in an email.

The Department of Education memo outlining the new curriculum ordering and delivery process is below:

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<a href=”http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1088119/guidelines-for-ordering-common-core-curriculum.pdf”>Guidelines for Ordering Common Core Curriculum for 2014-2015 (PDF)</a></p>
<p><a href=”http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1088119/guidelines-for-ordering-common-core-curriculum.txt”>Guidelines for Ordering Common Core Curriculum for 2014-2015 (Text)</a><br />

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