Updated, 8:12 p.m.: Different PDF file.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera on Thursday night unveiled a plan titled “A PreK-5 Literacy Comprehensive Plan and Recommendations” to the Board of Education Curriculum and Instruction Committee.
The plan includes a recommendation to go with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Journeys as the primary English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for the kids, with Core Knowledge (CKLA) as an optional alternative — in one or two schools — for kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms. And he wants to adopt Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries to create abundant independent reading libraries in every classroom, he said.
This was not met with enthusiasm from the committee’s new members, Sherelle Harris and Shirley Mosby, who were elected in November. Both expressed confusion about the optional second curriculum for Norwalk’s youngest students. Mosby suggested that it amounted to “experimenting” on Norwalk’s most vulnerable children.
“I wouldn’t want my kid to be an experiment and it doesn’t work,” she said. “… My kid would never catch up.”
“I am not talking about experimenting with kids,” Rivera said. “I am talking about a program that has been implemented in schools in New York, Newark and elsewhere. There is a two-year study that actually met research design standards, that actually demonstrated that that program had greater success for kids that are new, and, where it is implemented as designed, the kids over time did better. I’m talking about something that is more proven than those other ones on the list.”
The full board will consider this next week.
Journeys was the second choice last spring of a committee of teachers and school administrators that worked with Norwalk Public Schools Instructional Specialist Jean Evans Davila to recommend a curriculum. Davila pushed for Pearson, while then-BOE member Sue Haynie and others favored CKLA, the curriculum recommended by former Superintendent Susan Marks.
The impasse was resolved in August when Rivera recommended not rushing things to get a curriculum in place by the start of the 2013-14 school year. This was not really a delay, according to Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons – the original plan had been to choose a curriculum in time for 2014-15, he said.
Lyons said Thursday that Rivera’s choice, Journeys, is about half the price of Pearson. That frees up money for some options: the optional use of CKLA by schools that can sell Rivera on the idea of going in that direction. It also freed up money to pay for Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries, with $1,000 worth of books in every classroom, Lyons said.
CKLA would be offered as a pilot program for one or two schools. The curriculum requires more work on the part of teachers, but the research indicates excellent results with disadvantaged children, Rivera said. Third-graders would transition to Journeys or Expeditionary Learning.
If the school chooses to go in that direction, he would be willing to consider their choice, he said.
“I believe in innovation,” he said in response to Mosby. “I believe it has had some promising results. I am particularly impressed with the manner in which (CKLA) has been constructed and how it builds knowledge systematically through its rich literature.”
Mosby said she thought the point of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was to have the children on the same curriculum. The kids will move on to a “feeder school,” and they will all be on the same page, she said.
“They’re not learning something totally different,” Rivera said. “They’re learning the standards. Common Core State Standards is what is going to guide all the learning that takes place.’
The materials might be different, but they will be learning the same skills, he said.
“Right now as a district I would say no, we can’t have two separate ones,” he said. “Because we do have 12 schools that operate very independently and we don’t have that. We don’t have consistency. Right now it would not make sense. But in this kind of environment, where all eight cylinders are working together, we will have that level of consistency and standards.”
Harris followed up on Mosby’s questions, pushing for a better understanding of the two-curriculum process.
“All schools right now will adopt Journeys. Not Core Knowledge. Journeys is the city-wide recommendation,” Rivera said. “However, if a school chooses to submit a proposal to implement a different reading program on a pilot basis I will review the proposal, and, in that one school, in lieu of Journeys we’d choose Core Knowledge.”
Rivera said the choice was made with the input of a consultant, who was hired to evaluate the curriculum choices.
Lyons, who said he has been involved in the curriculum selection process for two years, lauded the consultant’s credentials, which include degrees from Yale, Harvard and Stanford universities.
“That person analyzed the data. Based on her analysis the two best programs are the ones that Dr. Rivera is recommending. To me that carries a lot of weight,” Lyons said.
Not to be rude, Mosby said, but this is a very big step. “We need to make sure that all children are going to benefit from this,” she said.
“Understood,” Rivera said. “That’s why you hired me, to bring my best expertise. That’s what I have done. This is the best you’re going to get. I have studied this. I have gone over this over and over again. I am actually pretty excited about what I have shared with you tonight. There’s a lot here. To execute that and to do that well is going to fundamentally transform what we are doing with K-5 literacy. I hope that the board is supportive of this direction because I think it’s the way to go. It is my recommendation to you that is what we do.”
Lyons also lauded Rivera.
“The comprehensive nature of this proposal is far better than anything I have seen,” he said.
The comprehensive plan begins with adopting a literacy policy, with the highest of expectations. It goes on, in Rivera’s words, to:
• Plan and deliver high-quality professional development
• Focus and establish district structures, roles and systems around literacy
• Engage and support parents at an unprecedented level
• Engage Norwalk’s public libraries and community partners
• Provide common “assessments” in all schools
• Provide more access to after-school and summer school programs
• Adopt Journeys for K-5 Literacy program
• Adopt Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries
• Adopt independent reading material aligned with CCSS available from Scholastic, Booksource, Classroom Library and Random House
The PowerPoint presentation announcing all of this is attached below.
Rivera said books are actually low on the list of importance.
“If you were to rank what has the greatest impact on student achievement, I would not find the textbook in the top five or six,” he said. “You’d find teacher quality at the top of the list. … I can’t come to you today with a recommendation for a textbook without talking about the critical importance of being able to engage your students, know your students, create the right classroom or talk about the critical importance of teachers in our schools and our leaders and what they need to know and be able to do. And the systems and supports that have to be in place because, if you don’t have that, you’re not going to have accountability.”