Chicago Public Schools are in contract negotiations with five vendors who will share in $135 million to help the third largest district create a new digital preK-12 curriculum.
The companies, each winning a three-year agreement, are: Amplify, Illuminate Education, McGraw-Hill Education, Public Consulting Group, and Vista Higher Learning. Their assignment is to work on curriculum, assessments, and data analytics under what Chicago is calling its Curriculum Equity Initiative.
In a survey of 539 CPS educators, nearly half reported that their school does not have curriculum available in the subject they teach, according to a release from the district. Still, about $30 million a year is spent on instructional resources in the district, with central-office spending and discretionary school funds used to make the purchases.
The Chicago district expects the companies to create a comprehensive, customized and standards-aligned curriculum based on a “seamless” scope and sequence for grades preK through 12. Their work will focus on five content areas: English/language arts, math, science, social science, and world languages. The district expects the curriculum to be vertically and horizontally aligned. It will also include a modern student assessment and analytics platform.
“We didn’t want to just purchase off-the-shelf instructional materials,” said LaTanya McDade, the district’s chief education officer, in a phone interview. “We wanted it really to be customized to represent the diversity of our student population, as well as … the cultural and historical contributions of our city.”
The final product of the vendors’ collaboration is expected to address the educational needs of all 361,000 students, including English learners and students receiving specialized services. It will incorporate social-emotional learning in every subject.
The district is forming the CPS Curriculum Collaborative, a group of more than 100 Chicago teachers from every grade level, to provide feedback on the curriculum content as part of the district’s formal review process.
The curriculum developed must be culturally responsive, representing Chicago’s diversity, said McDade. It must be free from bias, reflecting fairness across race, religion, ethnicity, and gender, McDade said, paying special attention to black, Latinx, working-class people, LGBTQ, and youth. “We want our student population, no matter who they are, to feel a sense of representation in the classroom.”
“We also want to make sure that we’re creating a 21st-century classroom that is providing a space for students to compete globally,” she said.
A Curated Collection of Resources
Because the curriculum is digital, it will be accessible to all learners and is intended to reduce the time educators spend locating and printing materials, said McDade. While most instructional materials are already available in digital format, this new resource will 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.
The end product will include a curated collection of supplemental resources that will be located in the district’s learning object repository, as well as guidance for teachers on how to use the resources in the curriculum.
The district wanted to ensure that teachers get the professional learning they need to engage with the curriculum, McDade said. They will not be required to use it. “This doesn’t take the place of teachers being able to be creative,” McDade said. But the new curriculum will provide vetted, quality materials that will be “at their fingertips.”
About 64 percent of Chicago teachers surveyed said they spend between two and seven hours each week searching the internet for instructional resources, and nearly 60 percent say they spend $250 or more of their own money on instructional materials.
“We know that building curriculum is not a skill set that teachers learn in preservice. It is our responsibility as a district to make sure that teachers have the tools that they need to meet the needs of every student in their classroom.”
Another finding from the CPS survey was that 85 percent of educators agree, or strongly agree, that it’s very important for the district to provide unit plans, lesson plans, video resources, question banks, and assignments. These elements will be incorporated into the new district-provided curriculum.
The district plans a phased release of pieces of the project. Beginning in September, a content package of digital learning resources, including interactive lessons that can be used to build on existing instructional materials, will be released. The first phase of the custom curriculum, with the full digital suite of units and lessons, is scheduled to be available early in 2020.
The five companies were chosen from their responses to an RFP issued in June 2018. Evaluation teams comprised of teachers, content experts and district staff, made recommendations about the vendors, according to the district. Nearly half of the evaluation teams were comprised of CPS teachers, and all evaluation teams included representatives with a background in educating diverse learners and English learners.
The total of the contracts for this initiative is not to exceed $45 million annually over three years. After the curriculum and digital platform are implemented, the costs are expected to drop to $20 million per year, which will primarily cover licensing and maintenance to ensure the curriculum stays relevant, CPS said in its release.
The board voted May 22 to authorize the agreement with various vendors. The decision was one of the last acts of the outgoing school board, which was recently replaced with a board appointed by new Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.