Urban Schools Join Forces on Instructional Materials for English-Language Learners

Associate Editor

The Council of the Great City Schools, dissatisfied with the quality of middle school math resources for English-language learners, is launching a purchasing consortium of large, urban public school districts with the goal of influencing content providers.

The procurement alliance represents 11 districts. The largest—the Los Angeles Unified School District—released an RFP this week to develop print and digital middle school math products that address the needs of English learners.

Seventy big urban districts are members of the council, and they educate 1.3 million ELLs, or 26 percent of all such students in the nation. L.A. alone educates over 100,000 English learners.

Part of the goal is to “incent the marketplace to improve quality” with the joint buying power of the districts, according to an announcement from the council. Other participants in, and contributors to, the purchasing consortium are school systems in Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Denver, El Paso, Nashville, Milwaukee, Palm Beach County, Fla., San Diego and Wichita.

“We brought together experts on the ground working on math, who know there’s a dire need to make sure our kids are ready for Algebra I,” said Gabriela Uro, the council’s director for ELL policy and research, in an interview. The organization also coordinated collaboration among the procurement officials from participating districts.

For the middle school math procurement, the 91-page RFP seeks responses from commercial publishers to create mathematics materials that are “consistent with college- and career-readiness standards and that meet the needs of ELLs to ensure that they are ready to take a rigorous Algebra I course no later than 9th grade, so they can “apply their mathematics skills to real-world problem-solving,” according to a written description about the procurement.

To be selected, vendors would have to demonstrate”high expectations of meeting the needs for language development in preparation for rigorous algebra coursework,” said Michael Casserly, the council’s executive director, in the announcement. Winning content providers will collaborate with a working group of urban educators and experts to develop or refine the print and digital materials.

Focus on Math, With More to Come?

Whether the materials/programs are existing or new, companies are expected to respond with a 3-page project proposal that answers these questions:

  1. How are your proposed print and digital materials designed to work together?
  2. How will you document that instruction, activities, and assessments are aligned to standards for intended grade levels?
  3. What is your vision for how the proposed unit fits into a coherent instructional framework, i.e., this unit as one part of a well-developed instructional pathway.
  4. How do/will the materials support for ELLs across multiple proficiency levels without compromising grade-level rigor?

Among the list of requirements in the RFP are considerations such as: in what classroom context the materials would be used; a detailed description of professional development expectations; and the need to provide samples of formative assessments. In the list of evaluation criteria, one is that preference will be given, as appropriate, to products or prototypes that are consistent with the Theory of Action expressed in the council’s A Framework for Re-envisioning Math Instruction for English Language Learners.

The focus on middle school math for English learners is “a very strategic move and a good one,” said Timothy Boals, the founder and director of WIDA, (formerly known as the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

“Too many people have seen support for these students as being limited to English/language arts, when really we need to support them in all of the academic classes, and mathematics is very important in helping to ensure that kids get into the right classes in high school.”

It looks like math might just be the start of the procurement consortium’s focus on influencing the marketplace.

“This consortium opens the door to similar approaches with other categories of products,” said Henry Duvall, the council’s communications director in an emailed response to an EdWeek Market Brief question. “We are simply taking steps, and this is the first  major step.”

The RFP is listed here, under Instructional Materials for English Language Learners, with a due date of Sept. 12. Vendors must register with the district to access the document.

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