NYC education official stands firm on curriculum mandate for schools amid demographic challenges

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According to a senior official from the Education Department, schools will not be allowed to evade a new reading curriculum requirement based on the demographics of students.

“There’s no difference in how we’re implementing based on demographics of kids,” stated First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg in response to a suggestion made by a Brooklyn superintendent. “That’s actually a pretty disturbing suggestion.”

New York City mandates that all elementary schools must adopt one of three reading curriculums, which is Chancellor David Banks’ initiative aimed at enhancing literacy rates.

However, it was reported that District 15 Superintendent Rafael Alvarez informed families that his district would have more flexibility compared to District 19 in Brooklyn. District 19, which mainly consists of Black or Hispanic children from low-income families, has around 38% proficiency in reading based on state tests. Conversely, District 15, which spans from Cobble Hill and Red Hook to Park Slope and Sunset Park, has less than half of its students who are Black or Hispanic or come from impoverished backgrounds, with approximately 63% reading proficiency.

Responding to concerns raised by parents at a Community Education Council meeting, Alvarez stated, “We have a different community…it’s the reason why there’s flexibility around how we’re using the curriculum — because we don’t have the same demographics where all of our kids need it verbatim with fidelity every day.”

When questioned about Alvarez’s remarks, top education officials clarified that while teachers may employ different approaches in implementing the curriculum, student demographics will not influence the process.

“There’s all kinds of areas where we need our educators, our teachers, and our principals to customize for their kids,” emphasized Weisberg, the second-in-command at the Education Department.

Alvarez later confirmed his support for Banks’ literacy mandate, highlighting that the implementation of a standardized curriculum began earlier in District 15, leading to a different appearance compared to District 19, where teachers need time to adjust to the new materials. He also mentioned efforts to incorporate project-based learning into the newly mandated curriculums.

District 15 Superintendent Rafael Alvarez at the Education Department’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. (Alex Zimmerman / )

While Banks refrained from directly addressing Alvarez’s comments, he praised the superintendent for his work.

Several families have requested waivers from the new curriculum requirements, with Education Department officials indicating that initially, a small number of high-scoring schools may be exempted.

Despite some schools showing interest in waivers, school leaders ultimately decided to adhere to the mandated reading curriculums. Details about the exemption process, such as schools seeking waivers or the criteria for granting them, were not disclosed by the department.

Banks expressed reluctance towards considering exemptions, mentioning a possible exception for schools demonstrating the highest performance.

“I don’t take well to principals — anybody else — who will say to me, ‘You know, we want an exception because we’re at 55% [reading proficiency], and our colleagues at 35%,’” Banks stated. “You don’t get an award for that. We all need help — we all need to continue to support one another.”

In addition, the city is set to establish an advisory group to provide feedback to curriculum providers based on schools’ experiences with the materials, as stated by Deputy Chancellor Danika Rux on Thursday. She noted that superintendents have been engaging in regular discussions regarding the implementation of the new curriculums and best practices.

Rux emphasized, “The curriculum providers make a whole lot of money from New York City public schools — and so we believe that they should listen to us.”

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