LORAIN — A kindergarten-through-second-grade English curriculum recently purchased by Lorain Schools is not published by a state-approved company.
The district paid $98,319.99 for the Great Minds' Wit and Wisdom K-2 English curriculum, according to the CEO-approved agenda from June 25. Professional development is an additional $14,000 for five days, seven hours a day. Last month's agenda, dated July 22, added 20 Grade 1 Geodes print classroom kits for $73,936.95 and an additional three days of professional development for $14,000.
The curriculum is not on the Ohio Department of Education's approved publisher list.
"Ohio public school districts must adopt or purchase printed or electronic textbooks from publishers approved by the Ohio Department of Education that have agreed to sell textbooks to school districts in Ohio at a price no more than the lowest list wholesale price available to school districts in any other state," according to the department's website. "Publishers also must meet accessibility requirements outlined in law. Ohio is a local adoption state; therefore, individual school districts may choose the textbooks that best meet the needs of their curriculum, as long as all publishers are chosen from the approved list."
The list, updated in June, includes the publishers of all other curricula purchased by the district for the upcoming school year. The Department of Education did not specify what happens if materials are purchased from unapproved publishers.
According to Great Minds' website, Wit and Wisdom is a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade English Language Arts curriculum that focuses on building a student's backgrounds in vocabulary and writing with grade-appropriate texts. Its third-through-eighth-grade curriculum receives glowing reviews on EdReports, a nonprofit that publishes free reviews of instructional materials, highlighting it aligns to current standards. It notes the materials reviewed do not include formal foundational skills programs. The website did not specifically review the K-2 materials.
Wit and Wisdom is the same curriculum used by IDEA public schools in San Antonio, Texas, where CEO David Hardy and a group of his administrators visited last fall. IDEA uses it for second-through-sixth-grade English, according to its website. IDEA is a charter school network started in 1998 by Teach for America corps members. Hardy has connections with IDEA's vice president of program innovation, Pablo Mejia, as the pair were part of the spring 2015 cohort of the Pahara-NextGen fellowship. Mejia is the schools' director of personalized learning.
In a statement from Scott Dieter, director of early childhood education for the district, Lorain Schools notes a change in curriculum is part of The Lorain Promise.
"Commitment (No. 2) of the Lorain Promise — investing in our early scholars — includes the goal that 80 percent of scholars will be reading on grade level by the time they reach third grade," he said. "When (The New Teacher Project) conducted a walk through of our elementary classrooms in January 2019, however, they found that just 10 percent of the K-2 literacy lessons they observed featured texts that were grade-level appropriate. This prompted us to prioritize selecting and implementing higher-quality literacy materials in our K-2 classrooms for the 2019-2020 school year. After consulting with TNTP, other Ohio districts, and instructional materials reviews conducted by EdReports and the Louisiana Department of Education, we identified Wit and Wisdom and EL Education as top-tier options. We then launched a pilot program, piloting about a month’s worth of instruction from each curriculum in 10 classrooms, whose teachers were nominated by their building leaders. We then solicited the feedback of those teachers on the usability of each option as well as suggestions for implementation, taking this input into consideration alongside other factors such as quality and cost of professional development. Ultimately, we decided to implement Wit and Wisdom because of its superior usability and low-cost, high-quality professional development.”
The district did not provide the estimated cost for EL Education's curriculum. Communications coordinator Sarah Egan-Reeves said Wit and Wisdom is a "curricular resource," but did not clarify what the difference between that and a textbook was.
Some teachers have publicly voiced their concerns with the new curriculum. Christine Miller, a second-grade teacher at Larkmoor Elementary School, was one of those involved in the pilot program. During a June 5 Academic Distress Commission meeting, she refuted statements by Chief Equity and Achievement Officer Kenan Bishop that teachers had had four months to review the new curriculum.
She said teachers were selected by their building principals to pilot the new curriculum. What began as a committee of 12 teachers on March 23, eventually dwindled to six.
She said they did not have anything to pilot until April 18, and the piloting process — four weeks of it — was during state and Northwest Evaluation Association testing. The modules they were given to pilot were 10 weeks long, she said.
Three teachers, including Miller, tested EL Education, while three others tried Wit and Wisdom. She said teachers asked to pilot the programs at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year instead, but received a video from Dieter on May 21 that the district had selected Wit and Wisdom — after the teachers had sided with EL Education.
"I don’t have an issue having a new curriculum; however, we didn’t give enough time for it," she said. "You don’t pilot something in four weeks and say that’s what we’re going to get.”