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New textbooks and new hope: Detroit teachers endorse new learning materials for classrooms

After a startling audit showed the Detroit district’s curriculum is not aligned to state standards, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on Monday recommended new materials for next school year at an academic committee meeting.

A committee of 113 educators, including 88 teachers, spent weeks reviewing different textbooks and online modules and voted on their favorites. Once a decision is made by the full board, teachers will begin training over the summer.

“This shift will be significant because it will actually teach to the rigor of the standards,” Vitti said. “This is going to be a hard change for everyone, especially the parents who are trying to assist their children at home.”

A hotline manned by either a district teacher or a retired teacher will also be established for students and parents to help them use the new materials, Vitti said.

For K-8 literacy materials, the committee is recommending the Expeditionary Learning curriculum from Open-Up Resources, a non-profit organization that offers free- and low-cost curriculums to districts. Three other options include Pearson (MyPerspectives) for grades 6-8, Amplify ELA, and Wit & Wisdom. All four are highly ranked by EdReports, a nonprofit website that reviews curriculums.

The top choices in math materials are Open Up by Illustrative Math for grades 6-8 and Eureka Math and Ready for K-8. All received high scores from EdReports.

At this point, new high school materials are not being recommended.

The Detroit district, with more than 50,000 students, has been using a curriculum that is so old and out of date that it’s likely that most students, for years, have been taking the state’s annual high-stakes exam without having seen much of the material they’re being tested on.

“Because we hadn’t had new curriculum in so long…we didn’t realize how bad it was,” Delores Alexander, a mathematics master teacher at A.L. Holmes Academy of Blended Learning said.

The teachers involved with the committee said they appreciated being included in the selection to make the transition to new materials easier and to feel confident they have identified good ones.

“It’s not just if they are aligned to the curriculum — it’s about how they are applied to the standards,” Alexander said. “It’s the focus correct for every grade level. Because if you have a gap in second grade, you’ll have a gap in all the grades through.”

The proposal will be heard by the finance committee on Thursday, where the cost of the new materials will be discussed.

“The money part is really important,” board chair Deborah Hunter-Harvill said, “but this is one of the most important decisions we’re going to make for this district as it relates to student achievement.”

Read Vitti’s presentation to the committee for yourself here.

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