MCPS Launches Effort To Find New Curriculum After Report Finds Flaws in Existing Materials

School system will look to replace Curriculum 2.0 that was written in-house


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The Montgomery County school system is about to begin searching the marketplace for a new curriculum to replace teaching materials that many educators have found lacking.

In launching the multiyear transition, Montgomery County Public Schools is following the recommendations of an academic team that recently completed an extensive review of its curriculum for elementary and middle schools. The roughly six-month evaluation by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy determined that many teachers have difficulty using the curriculum in language arts and mathematics and don’t think it meets the needs of all students.

Erick Lang, associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs, explained in a Friday interview that MCPS developed the curriculum in-house between 2010 and 2013 to comply with the Common Core Standards adopted by the Maryland State Board of Education.

At that point, MCPS had found there were few curriculum options on the market, since textbook companies and publishers were still adjusting to the Common Core requirements, Lang said. But these companies have since caught up, and Lang said MCPS staff agrees with the Johns Hopkins recommendation to explore these new instructional materials.

“We think it would be best to look beyond ourselves and beyond our folks here, to look outside to adopt an external curriculum,” he said. “We have a fairly small team here, and if you’re working with an external group to do this ... it’s their complete focus.”

Lang presented the Johns Hopkins report to the school board on Friday, and MCPS is now preparing to release a request for proposals to gather information about the curriculum products that are available on the market.

The curriculum that MCPS wrote—called Curriculum 2.0—has been fully implemented in elementary schools for five years and in middle schools for three years. The team that reviewed Curriculum 2.0 compared materials for math and language arts with state standards, conducted a teacher survey, held focus groups with teachers, principals and central office staff and did in-class observations. They also looked at student test scores and student work samples.

They concluded the language arts curriculum and the elementary-level math curriculum don’t sufficiently line up with Maryland College and Career Ready Standards, which incorporate Common Core standards. They also found that teachers have concerns about the curriculum and draw on lessons and assignments from other sources. In focus groups and surveys, teachers said the curriculum doesn’t adequately serve English language learners and special needs students.

“There is a strong case for beginning a transition away from Curriculum 2.0 and towards externally developed evidenced-based researched and reviewed instructional materials,” the Johns Hopkins report concludes.

Lang said one weakness of the existing curriculum is in detailing strategies and next steps for helping students when they’re struggling, and he said MCPS will be looking for this feature as it begins exploring alternatives.

“What teachers are looking for is, how can we build the supports directly into the curriculum so [we] don’t have to go elsewhere for information,” he said.

He said turning to externally developed materials also might be more cost-efficient and allow MCPS to keep its curriculum more current.

Scott Murphy, director of secondary curriculum and districtwide programs for MCPS, added the new curriculum might also be more adaptable.

“There may be materials in multiple languages. There may be more explicit differentiation for advanced learners or English language learners than may exist in the current curriculum,” he said Friday.

Lang said school system staff in coming weeks will be sifting through the curricula that are on the market. They’ll also be soliciting input from teachers and administrators and will be holding focus groups with parents and students, he said. Sometime in June, staff will likely send a recommendation to the school board so training with the new curriculum can begin over the summer. Then, MCPS will begin a three-year rollout of the curriculum, starting with a subset of schools and grades and expanding to others as time goes on, he said.

The school system will also try to follow the report’s recommendations on providing adequate teacher training on the new curriculum, he added.

The first year of the changeover will focus on elementary and middle schools, but MCPS will also explore the transition with the high school curriculum, he said.

In its fiscal 2019 budget proposal, the school system set aside about $1.5 million in placeholder funds to cover the cost of responding to the Johns Hopkins study, he said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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