Requirements for Elementary Schools in NYC’s Literacy Mandate Unveiled

Join New York City launched its new mandate for literacy curriculum this year, requiring elementary schools in almost half of its districts to choose from three curriculums. One particular curriculum, Into Reading, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, dominated the selection.

Educators were uncertain whether this curriculum, which has received mixed reviews, would continue to gain popularity as all elementary schools must adopt it by September 2024.

Now, it has been confirmed that all elementary schools in 22 out of the city’s 32 local districts will be required to use Into Reading, according to the Education Department.

This means that the majority of elementary school students in the city will soon be using the same curriculum for reading. This represents a significant change, as previously, principals had the flexibility to choose their own materials.

The decision to implement a flagship curriculum reflects a strong belief that it will help schools Chancellor David Banks achieve his main goal of improving the city’s literacy rates. This outcome is also surprising considering the Education Department vetted three options, which officials claimed to be of high quality. The other two options were Wit & Wisdom by Great Minds and EL Education, both of which have received praise from some advocates and educators.

EL Education will be required in five districts, while Wit & Wisdom will be used in five districts, including District 15 in Brooklyn, where schools with dual-language programs will use Into Reading. District 15 is the only district that did not unanimously choose a single curriculum for all its campuses. (See below for a complete list of each district’s curriculum choice.)

“Once again, Into Reading seems to have come out on top,” said Susan Neuman, a professor at New York University and literacy expert.

Although there are concerns about Into Reading not being culturally responsive enough, Neuman stated that there is little conclusive evidence on what the popularity of the curriculum will mean for student learning. She also mentioned that it is currently difficult to determine which of the three options selected by the city is the best.

According to Neuman and other experts, the three newly mandated curriculums are likely an improvement over the materials many schools have used in recent years, including Lucy Calkins’ popular program. Banks has argued against Calkins’ curriculum, claiming that it does not include sufficient instruction on the relationship between sounds and letters, known as phonics. Additionally, it incorporates some discredited methods, such as using pictures to guess words.

The Education Department selected three curriculums that are more aligned with long-standing research on how children learn to read, commonly referred to as the “science of reading.” In addition to the three reading programs, schools are also required to use an approved phonics program. Implementing a single curriculum across districts will allow for more effective teacher training efforts and ensure a smoother transition for students who transfer schools.

Into Reading Gains Popularity in NYC Schools Prior to Mandate

There are several reasons why Into Reading has become the most popular choice among local superintendents. It is perceived as the most traditional option and easier to implement, with structured step-by-step lessons. Unlike the other two approved programs, Into Reading also has a Spanish version, which may be appealing to schools with dual-language programs.

“It’s so scripted, and if superintendents and district teams are concerned about implementation, it could be easier than the other choices,” said an anonymous staffer from a local superintendent’s office.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of Into Reading, also adopted a savvy marketing strategy. The company made digital materials available for free during the pandemic, possibly contributing to its popularity in several districts. Superintendents may have been more inclined to choose a curriculum already in use in their schools to avoid a difficult and time-consuming transition.

EL and Wit & Wisdom Gain Slightly More Traction in Second Round

Despite Into Reading’s popularity, the other two curriculums, Wit & Wisdom and EL Education, were slightly more favored by superintendents in the second phase of the mandate. Advocates claim that Wit & Wisdom and EL Education place a greater emphasis on enhancing students’ background knowledge, an essential element for improving reading comprehension across various subjects.

These curriculums often include challenging nonfiction readings to ensure that students are reading at their grade level, although some educators have noted that they can be difficult for students who are behind.

In wealthier neighborhoods with schools that have a long-standing commitment to Calkins’ program, superintendents seemed to prefer Wit & Wisdom and EL Education. District 2, which spans from the West Village to the Upper East Side, is using Wit & Wisdom, as is District 3, which covers Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

District 15, which includes Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Sunset Park, and Red Hook in Brooklyn, divided its schools between Wit & Wisdom and Into Reading. However, districts with fewer low-income students, such as Bayside, Queens District 26, and Staten Island, are using Into Reading. Some high-poverty areas, like District 7 in the South Bronx, have chosen EL Education.

While curriculum choices are an important factor, experts emphasize that the quality of teacher training and the commitment of educators to implementing changes are also crucial. Some teachers in the first phase of the curriculum mandate have reported receiving less support than anticipated.

“It has been effective, but they want more of it — it has to be ongoing,” said Marielys Divanne, the executive director of Educators for Excellence-New York. The organization supports the city’s curriculum mandate. “Curriculum alone is not sufficient.”

Carla Murray-Bolling, a kindergarten teacher, expressed both anxiety and excitement about the new curriculum mandate. Her school, P.S. 84 on the Upper West Side, currently uses Calkins’ program but will be required to switch to Wit & Wisdom in the coming fall.

Murray-Bolling appreciates certain aspects of Calkins’ curriculum, called “Units of Study,” such as a recent lesson that teaches children that reading is a special power they can unlock, using a superhero metaphor that excited her students. However, she also mentions that the amount of independent work expected from her students can be challenging, as many of them have yet to master basic reading and writing skills.

“I’m anxious to see the changes,” she said. However, she also noted that there weren’t opportunities for teachers to provide input on the new curriculum choices.

Nevertheless, she approaches the Education Department’s reading overhaul with an open mind.

“If they believe it’s a strong curriculum and good for the students, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” she said.

What reading curriculum is your school district planning to use?

PHASE TWO (beginning September 2024)

Into Reading

Manhattan District 4

Bronx districts 8, 9, 10

Brooklyn districts: 15 (schools with dual language programs), 17

Queens districts: 24, 27, 28

Staten Island District 31

Select classrooms in District 75, a citywide district for students with more complex disabilities

EL Education

Manhattan districts: 1, 6

Bronx District 7

Brooklyn District 13

Wit & Wisdom

Manhattan districts: 2, 3

Brooklyn districts: 15 (schools without dual language programs), 18

PHASE ONE (began September 2023)

Into Reading

Manhattan District 5

Bronx District 12

Brooklyn districts 14, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 32

Queens districts 25, 26, 29, 30

Select classrooms in District 75

EL Education

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