Publishing Company’s Curriculum Edits Over Race and Gender Put It in Hot Water With Authors

Staff Writer

Several authors have severed their relationship with educational publisher Heinemann, following news that the company is now reviewing materials to reflect regulations in more than a dozen states restricting how students are taught about race and gender.  

“Due to irreconcilable differences regarding the work of equity, inclusion, and antiracism, effective immediately, we are ending our professional development and publishing relationships with Heinemann,” wrote Sonja Cherry-Paul and Tricia Ebarvia, in a Twitter statement.  

The duo are co-founders of the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy, a weeklong professional development experience for educators focused on the intersections of literacy and racial equity. 

Neither Cherry-Paul nor Ebarvia immediately responded to requests for comment. 

Heinemann’s decision to halt publication of curricula to review them under the lens of state laws was first reported by the New York Times.It is yet another example of how difficult it is becoming for publishing companies to balance demands for more inclusive curricula with the restrictions in many states about what can be taught.   

“As part of the pre-publication process, Heinemann and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project together decided to review the Units of Study materials to understand if all teachers would be able to access them in light of new legislation in 30-plus states,” said Erika McCaffrey, spokesperson for Heinemann, in an email.

Publishers will have to increasingly balance inclusive curricula demands with state restrictions
The review process includes taking a second look at the Units of Study, written by Columbia University professor Lucy Calkins. The reading curriculum had previously been criticized for not utilizing the science of reading—a term that generally means an evidence-based approach to literacy that includes explicit teaching of phonics, language structure, and background knowledge.  

A new iteration of it was anticipated, but Calkins announced a delay earlier this month through a Facebook group for the curriculum, citing state laws and focus group feedback as the reason for a new round of reviews. 

“In the midst of changing and often repressive educational regulations and laws, and in the wake of feedback from focus groups, we were set to work, determining whether changes could be made in Units of Study in order for educators working under the new laws to be able to use them,” Calkins wrote in her post.  

The New York Times reported that both Heinemann and Calkins became concerned when focus groups with educators in conservative states said that certain kinds of curriculum might violate the laws now passed in more than 15 states, including Florida and Texas. 

Heinemann issued an official statement claiming that it had “paused publication to allow for a final review to ensure the new Units meet our standards. That includes a commitment to ensuring the Units are culturally responsive and that all students see themselves in these materials.” 

Critics have taken to Twitter to voice their opposition to Heinemann’s decision and to show support for organizations like the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy. The organization has canceled its August virtual event, which was originally put on in partnership with Heinemann. 

According to Kevin Gray, the president and chief content officer for Westchester Education Services, curriculum providers are going to increasingly see this kind of pressure—both due to new laws curtailing certain topics, and from advocates who believe materials should be more diverse and deal frankly with issues of racism and gender. 

Many publishers selling in different states have already had to create different versions of materials and have had to stay attuned to different demands, especially within the last two years as conversations about inclusivity have increased, Gray said.  

In all, he said, the situation suggests the market will experience more fragmentation as companies increasingly publish different editions to fit different state standards, Gray said—or curriculum providers might begin to sell in certain markets exclusively. Either way, companies are going to have to take a hard look at how they navigate this emerging landscape, he said. 

“Ultimately, you’ve got to keep the students in mind because we’re all doing this for the sake of students,” Gray said. “But also thinking about who are the end buyersthe states and districtsand trying to figure out how you balance what your customers are looking for, with what your moral compass is saying.” 

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