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K-12 Education

StandardsWork Receives Grant to Support Implementation of Transformative Literacy Curriculum in Detroit Public Schools

StandardsWork is pleased to announce a major grant from the Skillman Foundation to develop tools that will support teachers in the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) as they transition to new English language arts (ELA) curricula.

Following an audit earlier this year that concluded the English language arts and mathematics curricula were outdated and misaligned to state standards, DPSCD reviewed a number of options and selected EL Education K-5 Language Arts (provided by Open Up Resources) and Paths to College and Career (published by John Wiley & Sons) for reading/language arts and Eureka Math (published by Great Minds). Both reading/language arts curricula were developed by the nonprofit organization EL Education (formerly known as Expeditionary Learning).

Called the modEL Detroit Project, this co-funded project by DPSCD and The Skillman Foundation is “designed to support the district’s transition to ELA curriculum that is considered rigorous for students and teachers alike,” said StandardsWork President, Barbara Davidson. “The deep commitment by DPSCD and the Skillman Foundation to the children of Detroit is evident in their willingness to support a project of this type. It will have a profound impact on the success teachers, and therefore students, have with this amazing curriculum.”

modEL Detroit will provide both planning and delivery resources to teachers implementing the EL Education curriculum, bringing to life what is recommended in the teachers guides. “These resources will support teachers in leveraging these rich materials; our aim is to reduce the burden of planning during a time when they are learning something completely new,” stated Beth Gonzalez, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction for DPSCD.

Davidson noted that DPSCD has determined the transition materials will be open source after a pilot year with Detroit teachers, so other districts around the country can access them free of charge. “This decision will magnify the impact of the work being done even further,” Davidson said.

The modEL Detroit Project is being led by Meredith Liben, a noted literacy expert with deep knowledge of curriculum development generally and the EL Education curriculum in particular. She has served for eight years as Director of Literacy at Student Achievement Partners. In that capacity she worked closely with the New York State Department of Education as it created the set of free curriculum resources housed on the EngageNY website. An earlier version of EL Education’s curriculum was developed as part of that project.

“The EL Education curriculum is universally considered outstanding and is one of EdReports’ highest rated programs, but it represents an enormous change in the way teachers approach their literacy instruction,” said Liben. “We hope to make it possible for students to enjoy the benefits of the curriculum’s design, even as teachers are learning to implement it well.”

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who took over the leadership of DPSCD in spring 2017, made curriculum reform, and aligning the districts professional development dollars to curriculum study and implementation, a pillar of his successful turnaround efforts in Duval County, Florida, where he was superintendent from 2013 to 2017. Last year, Duval County, the 20th largest school district in the country, was one of the highest performing large urban school district in the country based on the National Assessment of Education Progress. Obviously, there is hope a similar success story can be told about Detroit in the years ahead.

“All students deserve access to a high-quality literacy curriculum that will prepare them for success in school, career, and life,” said Scott Hartl, President and CEO of EL Education. “We are proud to be part of this transformative partnership. The open-source modEL Detroit Project is an important project to support teachers in the successful implementation of our K-8 Language Arts Curriculum in all Detroit Public School Community District schools.”

StandardsWork is a twenty-five-year-old nonprofit organization that draws attention to, and helps implement, high-impact levers capable of producing significant academic improvements in K-12 education.  Our current efforts are focused on the vital role curriculum plays in the attainment of college and career ready standards; the importance of building vocabulary and broad content-knowledge in students, particularly in the elementary grades; and a greater awareness of the “octane” that specific evidence-based instructional practices can provide.

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