Chicago Public Schools (CPS) knew they could do better. Research shows that access to cohesive, high-quality curriculum and instructional materials matters in advancing student learning. But in a survey1, District leaders reported quality and access of instructional materials varied greatly among district schools, with nearly half of surveyed CPS teachers reporting their school did not have curriculum available in the subject they teach. Instead, teachers reported spending much of their own time, money, and energies supplementing or piecing together curriculum, resulting in inequitable access and performance across the district.
Thus, the Curriculum Equity Initiative was born.
With this Initiative, CPS set out to build a standards-aligned, grade-level appropriate, and culturally responsive digital core curriculum that educators across all grade levels and subjects could use to ensure the needs of all students are met, including English learners and students receiving specialized services. All curriculum content, including assessments, to be (1) free from bias and fair across race, religion, ethnicity, and gender, and (2) culturally relevant, integrating the voices of diverse communities, cultures, histories and contributions that make up Chicago.
There was nothing on the market that met their requirements, so CPS took matters into their own hands. In May 2019, CPS announced an ambitious, multiyear project to ensure that students in all Chicago schools would have access to high-quality curriculum and instructional resources.
CenterPoint's Role in the Initiative
CenterPoint engaged, as a part of a consortium of leading organizations2, with CPS leaders to design and develop a PreK-5 curriculum in English language arts and banks of high-quality assessment items in both English language arts and mathematics. The curriculum work will be implemented across grades PreK-5 and will be supported by professional learning to assist with integrating curriculum and assessment.
CenterPoint's work focused on four key elements with equity as the guidepost:
- Design and development of the K-5 curriculum for English language arts
- Design and development of Pre-K English language arts and math lessons
- Design and development of English language arts and mathematics item banks of high-quality assessment items that align to elementary to high school curriculum standards
- Professional learning and capacity building to support implementation
To ensure instruction remained centered on building equity for Chicago’s learning community, design features of the curriculum include the following:
- Cultural Responsiveness: The content reflects and celebrates the rich diversity of Chicago students.
- Support for Diverse Learners: The curriculum contains specific supports and guidance for diverse learners including English Language Learner supports, and Universal Design for Learning to encourage movement, and multiple ways for students to demonstrate learning.
- Differentiated Learning Supports: The curriculum includes mini lessons that helps teachers to take students where they are in their learning by providing students with targeted small group or individual support, additional opportunities for practice, or extensions of learning for students who are ready for a challenge.
- Social Emotional Learning (SEL): The curriculum incorporates the Illinois SEL learning standards, holistically addressing students' self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, interpersonal, and decision-making skills.
- Spanish Translation: All documents containing prompts or instructions for students are available in Spanish.
Promoting Quality and Equity to Meet the Needs of All Students
To ensure quality, all portions of the curriculum were designed with tight alignment to Common Core State Standards. Each essential question contained within the curriculum acts as an anchor to both promote and deepen student ability to think critically. Additionally, teacher facilitation guides and playlists provide extensive specificity to ensure delivery of high-quality instruction to students, regardless of the experience of background of the educator.
Equity was also a key design feature. Applying the Chicago Public Schools Instructional Equity Rubric (developed in collaboration with EdReports), lessons and supports were reviewed using the following criterion to ensure that content fully aligned to standards and was diverse and bias free.
- Student Supports
- Engagement and Representation
- English Learner Supports
- Culturally Responsive and Inclusive
To achieve these criteria, text selection and design of learning activities and materials was guided by a firm commitment to the values and priorities of anti-oppression, anti-bias, anti-racism, and liberation thinking. Associated guidance documents include different perspectives on the same subject to model inclusion, as well as provide guidance for educators regarding options to support students when/as they encounter students who are struggling. Our curriculum and assessment item banks include “texts” in many formats (e.g., video, blogs, news articles), which prepares and promotes students’ advanced literacies in the continually evolving digital age.
Ultimately, this work is designed to provide students opportunities to exercise and strengthen their voices and agency, so they are prepared to be the leaders and citizens of tomorrow.
Is it time to revisit your curriculum?
Across the nation, schools, districts, and communities are reexamining what it means to reach and teach all students. What does it mean to achieve equity for all? At CenterPoint, we believe the answer starts with a high-quality, equity- focused curriculum. Districts like CPS are leading the way by putting those principles at the center of their work.
Interested in learning more? Submit the form below to discuss your curriculum vision.
1 “Curriculum Equity Initiative.” Chicago Public Schools, 2021, www.cps.edu/strategic-initiatives/curriculum-equity-initiative/.
2 The consortium of organizations collaborating on this project included Public Consulting Group (PCG), Emerald Education (Emerald Ed), and Achievement Network (ANet).