MCPS Exploring Idea of New High School English, Math Curriculum

MCPS Exploring Idea of New High School English, Math Curriculum

School system purchased $27 million elementary, middle school curriculum earlier this year

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Photo via Harry MacKenzie on Flickr

After agreeing to spend $27 million on externally-developed elementary and middle school English and math curriculum, the Montgomery school system has turned to its high school curriculum as the next for a possible upgrade.

Earlier this year, the county Board of Education approved the purchase of elementary English curriculum and pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade math, middle school math and middle school language arts. The new lessons will be rolled out in phases to 136 elementary schools and 40 middle schools, beginning in the fall.

The school system began seeking new curriculum after a study by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy determined Montgomery County’s self-designed curriculum did not meet federal standards adopted by the state Board of Education.

The Johns Hopkins study did not include high school curriculum, which is internally designed and allows teachers to choose their own texts and supplemental materials, but the school system “learned a lot of lessons” while researching elementary and middle school lessons, according to a spokesman.

Derek Turner, the school system spokesman, said no decisions have been made about whether the school system will seek externally-developed curriculum and officials are simply trying to gauge the interest level from staff.

“We did learn a lot of lessons from our audit of elementary and middle curriculum that applies at the high school level as well,” Turner said. “Nothing is finalized in terms of future curricular changes beyond the elementary and middle school purchases we have already made.”

A group of high school English teachers, however, believe the process is further along than school leaders indicate and fear a new curriculum will be chosen without support from educators.

Leah Michaels, chair of Richard Montgomery High School’s English department, said teachers have begun organizing to contact school board members and parent-teacher association leaders to voice concern about what they feel is a rushed process to find and implement new curriculum.

“My opinion is that MCPS and the Board of Education are too concerned about possible fallout from a true analysis of school boundaries to raise the real issues and are trying to buy their way out of the achievement gap through moves such as this,” Michaels said.

About 70% of high school students are proficient in English and about 55% are proficient in math, according to school system data. Minority student groups are most likely to not be proficient in either subject, according to the data.

During a recent school board meeting, Julie Dean, an English teacher at Watkins Mill High School said the majority of teachers do not want new curriculum.

She said educators worry a nationally-marketed curriculum would make it more difficult for teachers to select texts and resources that resonate with the diverse student body.

The Montgomery school system has a student population with about 31% of students identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 21% black, 14% Asian and 28% white, according to school data.

“Before purchasing a curriculum, MCPS must demonstrate that what we are doing now is not working and that purchased curriculum would be more effective in closing the achievement gap,” Dean said. “There has been no external review, no parent outreach, no input from teachers, no data put forth supporting the need for change.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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