NYC seeks feedback from families on plans to revamp middle and high school literacy programs

Following a comprehensive mandate to revamp reading programs in elementary schools, officials in New York City are now focusing their attention on middle and high schools. They are seeking input from families through online focus groups to evaluate the ELA curriculum for grades 6 to 12. The Education Department has not announced concrete plans regarding standardizing curriculums at this level, and the public engagement process appears to be kept rather quiet. However, they have removed the initial list of possible curriculums under consideration from the online registration form.

New York City is considering various curriculums for middle and high school. In middle school, the options include Into Literature, EL Education, Wit & Wisdom, Amplify ELA, and Reading Reconsidered. For high school, the options are StudySync, FishTank ELA, CommonLit, MyPerspectives, and Odell High School Literacy Program. Some of these curriculums, such as Into Literature, are also part of the elementary school reading mandate, which is the most popular curriculum so far under the new mandate.

Until now, New York City principals have had the autonomy to select their own curriculums. However, Schools Chancellor David Banks disagrees with this approach due to concerns about inconsistencies in the quality of instructional materials used by educators. In his recent “State of Our Schools” speech, Banks mentioned that the department will announce new approaches to instruction across all core subjects and grade levels, similar to how they did for early literacy. While some high school superintendents have already mandated specific reading programs, there is no centralized directive for them to do so. The city has also introduced a standardized algebra curriculum in select high schools.

Budget cuts ordered by Mayor Eric Adams could potentially hinder the Education Department’s efforts to implement broader curriculum changes beyond elementary school. Adding curriculum to schools on a larger scale requires a substantial amount of funding, and the department may not want to make promises they cannot fulfill. The focus groups for middle and high school families indicate a departure from the previous strategy for choosing elementary school reading curriculums, which had limited public input.

While it is encouraging that the city is considering strengthening curriculum choices for middle and high school, Susan Neuman, a literacy expert, and former federal education official, expressed concern about whether the Education Department would genuinely consider input from the focus groups. The department did not seek input from its Literacy Advisory Council for the mandated elementary school curriculums, which caused frustration among council members. Dannielle Darbee, the principal of the Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance, believes that a more standardized curriculum at the high school level could be beneficial in exposing students to rigorous texts consistently and giving teachers more free time. However, she emphasizes the need for thorough training on the new materials and support for high school teachers in teaching students with significant reading difficulties.

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