Unlike Florida, Iowa school districts choose their own curriculum

Isaac Dausener, 13, left, and classmate Grant Tucker, 14, worked together last Tuesday to test various chemical reactions during their Chemistry 1 class at Mount Vernon Middle School. The school district is revamping its science curriculum starting this summer. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

A leaf is covered in chemicals during a Chemistry 1 class at Mount Vernon Middle School in Mount Vernon. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Eight students Kaia Swaim, 13, left, and Landon Grosse, 13, work in groups last Tuesday to experiment with chemical reactions during their Chemistry 1 class at Mount Vernon Middle School. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Science teacher Rob Hanson reviews a spreadsheet with 13-year-old eighth grader Landon Grosse during Chemistry 1 class last Tuesday at Mount Vernon Middle School. Hanson walked around the class answering questions and helping students with their science experiments. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Educators at the Mount Vernon Community School District will begin reviewing their language arts and science curriculum this summer, having “rich discussions” about how to meet the needs of their students, said Michelle Boyden, a teacher in leadership of the Mount Vernon Prek-12 Community School District. specialist.

Many school districts in Iowa are adopting the curriculum through a process led by district administrators with input from teachers and even students. In the Cedar Rapids metro area, Grant Wood Area Education Agency curriculum consultants work closely with school districts to help a district assess how well a potential curriculum meets basic standards of Iowa.

Iowa’s curriculum review process varies widely from the process used in Florida, which made national headlines last month when its state Department of Education rejected 54 submitted textbooks – 41% – claiming that the material did not meet the state’s Benchmark Scores for Excellent Student Thinking (BEST) standards. The highest number of rejected books were for K-5 levels.

Boyden of Mount Vernon said she appreciates the autonomy of Iowa school districts to make curriculum decisions on their own.

“Really knowing your students” helps make those decisions and keep learning engaging for all students, she said. Mount Vernon schools follow a five-year cycle to review and replace the curriculum.

Florida rejects ‘woke’ content

In Florida and other states, including California and Texas, course materials are adopted by subject area to meet state needs and priorities.

In Iowa, however, adoption of the curriculum is a decision made locally by each school district using a district-specific process, so each district’s adoption process is different, the gatekeeper said. word of the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, Renee Nelson.

The Florida Department of Education said the rejected textbooks contained banned topics, including references to critical race theory and unsolicited additions of social-emotional learning in math and other textbooks.” woke content,” according to a press release from the Florida Department of Education.

The idea behind critical race theory is that race is a social construct and racism is embedded in legal systems and policies. It was created by jurists in the late 1970s as a framework for legal analysis. The theory “does not exist in the K-12 system,” said Melissa Peterson, government relations specialist for the Iowa State Education Association.

Social-emotional learning—which is becoming a priority in many eastern Iowa school districts, including Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Mount Vernon—is about developing healthy identities, managing emotions, fixing and achieve goals, show empathy for others, establish and maintain friendships. and make responsible and caring decisions.

A math textbook rejected in Florida included a bar chart showing differences between age groups on the Implicit Association Test, which measures levels of racial bias. In another math lesson on adding and subtracting polynomials, a paragraph included this sentence: “What? Me? Racist? Over 2 million people tested their racial biases using an online version of the racial bias test. implicit association.

In response to the Florida Department of Education rejecting their textbooks, publishers are changing the instructional materials submitted to them to align with Florida state standards, according to a Department of Education press release. Florida education.

The curriculum adopted by the Florida Department of Education includes that of publishers Accelerate Learning, McGraw Hill, Savvas Learning Company, Big Ideas Learning, Carnegie Learning, Ed Gems Math, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Math Nation.

Besides giving some examples, the Florida department didn’t say which curricula from which publishers it rejected.

Iowa Schools Choose Program

The Iowa school curriculum adoption process is guided by the state Department of Education’s Iowa Core Standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do K-12 in math, science, English language arts, and social studies. The Iowa Core also sets learning goals for skills in areas such as financial and technology literacy.

The Grant Wood Area Education Agency can inform districts about effective teaching practices and suggest how a program may or may not support those practices. Consultants can also help the district reflect on its specific student achievement data and how a proposed program can meet student needs, Nelson said.

The Grant Wood Area Education Agency is “paramount” in helping schools identify quality teaching materials, said Kelsey Feldmann, K-6 math resource specialist in the Iowa City Community School District.

Iowa City schools are currently reviewing their math curriculum, and Feldmann makes many classroom visits to observe math lessons. She also discusses with teachers and students how the curriculum leads to “meaningful growth” in student knowledge and what aspects are not as effective.

“It’s important that teachers feel their voice is heard,” Feldmann said. The process gives teachers “ownership” of the curriculum, said Feldmann, who taught elementary and middle school math for 10 years.

Feldmann also visits districts that are using educational materials that Iowa City schools are considering implementing and takes the time to “do authentic research,” she said.

“I think it’s really exciting to know that our district is able to look at our unique needs here and take the time to figure out what will best meet our needs,” Feldmann said. “What is good for our district is not necessarily what is good for other districts.”

The Iowa City Community School District has an eight-year cycle to revise and replace the curriculum. Adopting a new curriculum costs between $1 million and $1.5 million, said Diane Schumacher, executive director of teaching and learning for Iowa City Schools.

A new math curriculum will be adopted in fall 2024 for Iowa City elementary schools and fall 2025 for middle and high schools.

The math changes, Schumacher said. A few decades ago, students had to memorize algorithms they weren’t supposed to understand, she said.

“Now we ask the children to understand why the algorithm works. These are some of the changes the Iowa Base Standards asked us to make.

Iowa City educators are also considering equity in their math curriculum adoption process. Does the textbook only include white or culturally diverse mathematicians? Schumacher asked. Are students shown solving math problems from a variety of backgrounds?

Iowa City high schools are working to eliminate lower-level math courses, which have a disproportionate representation of students of color, that don’t meet student needs, Schumacher said.

The elementary math curriculum review process begins with Iowa City school officials working with Grant Wood Area Education Agency consultants to identify a good curriculum and preview materials from eight companies, Schumacher said. .

A team of elementary school teachers reviews the curriculum and a rubric is developed to rate the material on how it aligns with Iowa Core Standards, rigor, consistency, conceptual understanding, quality of instructional support for teachers and the support available for differentiation — from high-ability students to students who need extra instruction, Schumacher said.

Teachers also consider the real-world application of the curriculum: Are students actively learning or just “passively receiving” information, Schumacher asked. An example of active learning is blocks that show young students why the number five is greater than three.

The eight curricula are then whittled down to four depending on the rubric, and all teachers have the opportunity to give feedback on curriculum options, Schumacher said. This is helping district officials narrow the program down to two options, which will be tested in all 24 elementary schools.

There’s a “huge advantage” for schools to be able to make their own choices about their curriculum, Schumacher said.

“We choose what is good for us and for our students,” Schumacher said. “He was not chosen by someone in Des Moines who is trying to make a choice for all students in Iowa.”

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