Akron School Board to Vote on New Equity-Based English Curriculum

At a time when political debates are swirling in Ohio over school curriculum and the role of schools in teaching controversial subjects, the Akron Public Schools Administration is recommending new English and reading curricula for K-12 students who put equity and diversity at the center of their concerns.

The school board could vote as early as Monday on the measure, which has already been the subject of two readings in the past three weeks.

The district recommends the purchase of three curricula for English language arts and reading from two companies.

The program for K-2 students is called McGraw Hill’s Wonders 2023. The programs for grades 3-5 and 6-12 come from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and are called Into Reading and Into Literature. The cost for all three is just over $5.5 million.

The district adopts a new curriculum for all subjects over an approximately seven-year cycle, a measure necessary to adapt to changing state standards and to keep materials current.

This seventh-grade literature textbook and grammar practice textbook are part of new English arts and reading programs offered by Akron Public Schools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Although routine, the purchase is important, both for the impact it has every day in schools for students and teachers, but also because the district is committed to a program rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Meanwhile, in the state legislature, there is talk of banning the teaching of “dividing concepts” like the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality, and white privilege. The Akron school board and teachers’ union recently passed resolutions condemning three such bills that were introduced in the House, which mirror bills passed in other states.

“Divisive concepts” in education:If “divisive concepts” are banned, would the Akron Public Schools Board comply?

Deputy Superintendent and Head of Academics Ellen McWilliams-Woods said her team did not comb through the documents to see if there were mentions of any of the terms the proposed legislation would prohibit.

“Historically, I would never start anticipating and trying to make decisions on something that’s at the start of a legislative process,” McWilliams-Woods said. “There are so many bills that come in this way, we always have to wait and see what gets passed, so I think it’s premature even for us to go there.”

But Akron as a whole has always pushed its work forward based on its own value system, regardless of the political winds in Columbus, she said.

“It’s been a City of Akron principle for a long time,” McWilliams-Woods said. “We’re putting our heads down and moving forward with what we think is good for our kids, our families and our community, and that’s the only thing we can focus on right now.”

The city and the school district in particular, she noted, are very diverse in terms of races, backgrounds and schools of thought.

Panels of "Monster: A Graphic Novel" by Walter Dean Myers are seen in a seventh-grade literature textbook, which is part of the new English and reading curriculum offered by Akron Public Schools.

Akron-based employers have told the school district they need employees who can problem-solve and work in a diverse team, serving diverse communities, she said.

“For us, our focus has to be how are we going to help businesses fill all of their openings with a diverse population that right now can’t access those jobs,” she said.

Akron seeks diversity in its learning materials

The Akron School Board has shown an equal commitment to equity, especially racial equity – a concept that every student should get what they need to succeed, and which could be different for every student, and that racist systems and structures have played a role in these needs. .

The board adopted a racial equity policy last fall and created an equity committee, which is conducting an audit to better understand the district’s shortcomings when it comes to providing equal opportunities to all students. .

At a committee meeting earlier this month, board members asked about the ability of the educational materials to reach all students. Board member Diana Autry said she flipped through some of the books and saw the use of the words “race” and “racism” without apology.

“I appreciated seeing that in the docs,” she said.

Part of a chapter on Shakespearean dramas can be seen in a 10th grade literature textbook, which is on display at the Akron Public Schools Administration Building along with the rest of the new English-language arts and reading curriculum offered by the 'APS.

Akron learning specialist Toan Dang-Nguyen said the teams evaluating the materials looked for diversity in the stories and who is represented in those stories. But it’s not about telling students what to think, she says.

“I think it’s not really about taking a stand, but about empowering children, helping them understand this and allowing them to engage in meaningful conversations about this,” she said. declared.

More “activity-based” classroom learning

An example in secondary school materials is an exercise on poverty. Students are asked to discuss poverty reduction strategies in the United States in small groups, then create a list of these strategies and rank them according to how effective the students think they would be.

The material also emphasizes the development of students’ social and emotional skills. A passage on social and emotional learning talks about the skill of self-awareness, encouraging students to be curious and have conversations about what they are curious to learn in a section.

Dang-Nguyen said the team also preferred these mediums because they offered the strongest approach to helping students who are behind after a year of distance learning catch up. The materials aim to push students to work at the school level, with intervention for those who need it.

“Most of your time should be spent on basic education, and if the kids aren’t getting it, we can provide support,” she said.

A proofreading exercise for subject-verb agreement is seen in an eighth-grade grammar practice book that.  is part of the new English language arts and reading program offered by Akron Public Schools.

Books in a classroom are also just a starting point for teachers, McWilliams-Woods said. Long gone are the days of starting on page 1 on day one and moving page by page in class and then offering a multiple-choice test. The new materials must be able to help teachers teach the state standards that students need to learn, but in a way that expands their learning beyond rote facts.

“It needs to be set up where it’s more activity-based, where kids are working on projects, where kids have a choice of how they’re going to present their answers, where kids can work on real-life projects in the community and bring it to show how their seventh-grade English writing project is going to help their community,” McWilliams-Woods said.

Large textbooks move to the digital platform

The days of Akron students bringing home bulky textbooks are also coming to an end.

While students will still have physical books to hold in their hands, any large textbook is migrating entirely to the digital platform. This can allow textbook makers to make real-time updates to materials, McWilliams-Woods said, or link to other related topics or materials.

“Digital, you can click and it leads to other amazing things,” she said. “A textbook is not. You get everything in print and you don’t get any other additional resources.”

While the materials are all available digitally for students, hard copy samples are available for the public to view at the council office at District Headquarters, 10 N. Main, prior to Monday’s meeting.

A 10th grade literature textbook is on display along with other portions of the proposed English and Reading curriculum for Akron Public Schools.

Contact educational journalist Jennifer Pignolet at [email protected], 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.