Chicago Public Schools is planning to spend as much as $135 million over the next three years to make sure all students preschool through 12th grade have access to high-quality learning material.
The plan will be up for approval at the Chicago Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.
Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said the initiative is one way the school district is addressing the issue of black students performing notably worse on standardized tests than Latino or white students. She said this initiative is about tackling the “opportunity gap.”
Currently, she said, “students will be in one school and will have access to grade-appropriate curriculum that is rigorous with high expectations for students and, in another school that is just not the case, and students are not getting what they need.”
Somewhat surprisingly, McDade said the school district has not previously offered teachers access to curriculum or learning material across all grade levels at one time.
Now, some principals buy curriculum while other teachers are left to cobble together material, google material or sometimes spend their own money to find what they need. In a survey of more than 500 teachers by the school district, about half said their school doesn’t provide curriculum and 64% said they spend between two and seven hours each week searching the Internet for resources.
“So we want to right the wrong in terms of the inequity as it relates to curriculum,” McDade said. “Overwhelming, the teachers stated in the survey … that they absolutely want and need this resource.”
Teachers and students will be able to access the material online, but it’s up to teachers to decide how they want to use it in their classrooms. McDade stresses teachers do not have to use the curricula. CPS plans to begin rolling out the materials beginning in September.
CPS has not had a comprehensive curriculum initiative in recent memory, but at times the school district has implemented curricula for particular subjects and grade levels. These efforts faced some criticism, with some educators saying the materials were not culturally appropriate or were either too easy or too hard.
Also, there’s great skepticism of curriculum companies that often spend big money marketing to educators and sometimes offer junkets or consultant opportunities.
In this situation, the school system went through a competitive bidding process and the evaluation committees included teachers, according to CPS. The companies set to get the contracts are Amplify, McGraw-Hill, Public Consulting Group and Vista Higher Learning. The plan is also to ensure the curriculum is “culturally responsive” and reflects the school’s diverse student body.
Once the companies are on board, they have agreed to customize the curriculum. The school district is looking for 100 teachers to provide feedback in what is being called the Curriculum Collaborative.
Syed Ahmed, a teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary School on the North Side, was part of a committee that vetted the companies. He said he is excited about this initiative. It will mean schools won’t have to devote precious budget dollars on learning materials and instead can put that money toward more teachers or support staff.
He also said it will introduce teachers to resources they didn’t know about. For example, he wasn’t aware of a virtual library of books.
“I absolutely love what I am seeing,” Ahmed said.