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Chicago Public Schools Launches Groundbreaking Curriculum Equity Initiative

17 May 2019

First-of-its-Kind Initiative Will Provide Unprecedented Resources and Support for Teachers and Students to Strengthen Access to High-Quality Instruction Beginning in 2020

CPS Office of Communications

Phone: 773-553-1620
Twitter: @chipubschools
Facebook: chicagopublicschools

Friday, May 17, 2019

CHICAGO - Chicago Public Schools today announced a first-of-its-kind Curriculum Equity Initiative to ensure that students in every part of Chicago can benefit from high-quality curriculum and instructional resources. While some teachers currently have access to instructional materials, quality and access vary greatly among district schools, with nearly half of surveyed CPS educators reporting their school does not have curriculum available in the subject they teach. The Curriculum Equity Initiative will create a standards-aligned, culturally relevant library of teacher resources that educators across all grade levels and subjects will be able to utilize to supplement their instruction and ensure the needs of all students are met, especially English learners and students receiving specialized services.

The Curriculum Equity Initiative is a key component of the district’s Five-Year Vision,which outlines a series of strategies to promote equity throughout the school district.

“Chicago Public Schools has made incredible progress in recent years, and to continue that momentum and — most importantly — ensure all students can share in that success, we must guarantee equitable access to the strongest instructional materials,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice. K. Jackson. “Through our groundbreaking Curriculum Equity Initiative, we will ensure that every student in every neighborhood benefits from culturally relevant instructional resources that are aligned to their unique needs and prepares them for success.”

While schools and educators will continue to have the autonomy to implement their own lesson plans, the Curriculum Equity Initiative will ensure teachers at all schools have guaranteed access to high-quality, culturally responsive curriculum to supplement or serve as a basis for instruction. These new resources, which will be accompanied by robust professional development, will ensure students can access high-quality lessons while enabling educators to devote more time to classroom culture and one-on-one instruction. The design will ensure that schools with robust curriculum can continue offering high-quality instruction that works for them, while also offering schools the opportunity to access, personalize, and implement a robust curriculum at no cost to themselves.

Providing Teachers the Resources They Need and Deserve

National research from the RAND Corporation shows that nearly all math and language arts teachers rely on materials they’ve developed themselves, with the most common sources for these materials being Google, Pinterest, and TeachersPayTeachers. The survey also found that nearly all educators also relied on materials developed or selected by their district.

The study recommends that school districts could provide more guidance and support in the selection and development of high-quality instructional materials aligned with standards, including additional guidance on practice and key content for each grade level in order to bolster instruction.

In order to assess the needs of CPS educators, the district designed and distributed an anonymous survey at network meetings to gauge the challenges and opportunities surrounding classroom instruction. The survey, which was filled out by 539 school-based teachers, librarians, instructional coaches and administrators, showed results similar to national trends, including:

  • 46.2 percent of surveyed educators said their school does not have curriculum available for the subject they teach.
  • 63.8 percent of surveyed educators spend between 2-7 hours each week searching the internet for instructional resources.
  • 52.7 percent of surveyed educators spend 5 or more hours a week designing instructional materials.
  • Google, Pinterest, and TeachersPayTeachers are regularly used by educators to serve as the basis for finding lesson plans, which are not vetted for quality.
  • 59.3 percent of surveyed educators spend $250 or more of their own money on instructional materials.
  • More than 85 percent of surveyed educators agree or strongly agree that it’s very important that CPS provide unit plans, lesson plans, video resources, question banks and assessments — all elements that will be incorporated into the new curriculum that will be provided by the district.

“All of our dedicated educators deserve access to high-quality curriculum and instructional materials that they can use to customize their courses and challenge their students to reach their full potential,” said CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya D. McDade.“CPS teachers spend an average of 250 hours per year searching for and developing instructional materials, and this first-of-its-kind effort will ensure that all Chicago educators have guaranteed access to high-quality culturally relevant curriculum so that teachers can focus their time and energy on meeting the needs of their students.”

Promoting Equity and Meeting All Student Needs

In order to ensure the optional curriculum effectively supports students from all backgrounds and challenges them to reach their full potential, the Chicago-specific curriculum will be inclusive, reflecting the rich cultural diversity of our students, and combine rigor and support with strategies for addressing diverse learning needs, including those of English learners and students with disabilities.

Key customized features of the curriculum will include:

  • Cultural Responsiveness:The content will reflect and celebrate the rich cultural diversity of our students.
  • Support for Diverse Learners:The curriculum will contain specific modifications for student lessons and guidance for teachers to meet the individual needs of their students.
  • Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Framework: The district’s existing system of identifying students in need of additional support and ensuring they have what they need to be successful will be incorporated.
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL): Curriculum will incorporate SEL so that every subject incorporates holistic elements.
  • Spanish Translation: All documents containing prompts or instructions for students will be available in Spanish.

“The Curriculum Equity Initiative will level the playing field so that all schools and all students in all parts of the city will all have access to the same high-quality instructional resources,” said Principal of Plamondon Elementary, Dr. Althea Hammond. “My teachers are excited to for this multi-functional resource, which will allow them to design coursework and instruction with ease and creativity.”

Designed With Teachers in Mind

The Curriculum Equity Initiative is a multi-year effort to design a suite of digital curricular resources with a wide range of functionality to help support all of the content and instructional needs of every educator. While most instructional materials are already available in digital format, this new resource will have advanced functionality to enable teachers to copy and modify materials to meet the unique needs of their students and support all of the content and instructional needs of every educator.

Not only will this resource include culturally relevant, interactive content, but it will also include scope and sequence, units of study, learning activities, assessments, and guides that will allow every educator to customize lessons to fit their classroom environment. Teachers will have the flexibility to adopt the full curriculum or supplement their current curriculum with the modern resources included in the digital library. This new resource will give teachers the ability to utilize digital and print-based learning activities, lessons, assessments and materials for their students to complete.

“I am spending an endless amount of time developing resources during the school year and 2-3 hours per week over the summer,” said Portage Park Elementary School teacher Pamela Nicandro-Osorio. “The Curriculum Equity Initiative will save teachers like me time and money so I can focus on student learning."

The initiative will be released in phases, beginning in September 2019 with the release of a content package of digital learning resources, which will include interactive lessons that can be used to build on existing instructional materials. The district will begin rolling out the first phase of the custom curriculum, which will include the full digital suite of units and lessons, in early 2020, with a full target completion date of July 2021. When complete, the suite of instructional resources will span every grade from Pre-K through grade 12 in all core subject areas.

In order to ensure that Chicago teachers are able to shape the new curriculum, the district is establishing the CPS Curriculum Collaborative, a group of more than 100 Chicago teachers from every grade that will provide feedback on the curriculum content as part of the district’s formal review process. The district will be launching an application in June 2019 for teachers interested in joining the Curriculum Collaborative.

Multi-Year Proposal

Currently, CPS, through a combination of discretionary school funds and central spending, spends approximately $30 million a year on instructional resources, which do not currently benefit all classrooms. In order to provide a complete and multi-functional curriculum and digital platform, the district is seeking to enter into multi-year contracts with several vendors for a not-to-exceed amount of $45 million on a yearly basis for three years. These costs will cover curriculum content development for every core subject, professional learning, project management, translation, support and maintenance, and allow schools that currently spend their own discretionary funds on curriculum to instead spend those funds on other educational resources. Following the first three years of the initiative, during which the curriculum and digital platform will be implemented, the costs are expected to drop to approximately $20 million per year, which will primarily cover licensing and maintenance to ensure the curriculum stays relevant for years to come.

The vendors were selected based on the recommendations of evaluation teams, which were comprised of teachers, content experts, and district staff. Nearly half of the evaluation teams were comprised of CPS teachers, and all evaluation teams featured representatives with a background in educating diverse learners and English learners.

At the May 22 Board Meeting, the district will seek to execute contracts with the following vendors, following a competitive solicitation process: Amplify, Illuminate, McGraw-Hill, Public Consulting Group (PCG) and Vista Higher Learning. If approved, district curriculum leaders and teachers will then work with the vendors to develop custom curriculum for Chicago students.

Chicago Public Schools serves 361,000 students in 644 schools. It is the nation's third-largest school district.


*An earlier version of this release unintentionally omitted one of the vendors included in the Board report.