DALLAS – The Dallas School District hasn’t purchased curriculum for any subject at any grade level for 10 years. For some subjects, the last time the district brought in new curriculum was 20 years ago.
Last year, the district instituted a committee to update the district’s curriculum. The group, called the Curriculum Skills Committee, started its work in August 2018.
Shannon Ritter, a committee leader, told the Dallas School Board at its meeting on Oct. 28 that the committee’s purpose is to review where the district was at with curriculum in three areas: social emotional learning, professional and technical skills and academics.
“We recognized that those three skill areas all together were heavily lacking throughout our district, so we put these teams together to begin that work of figuring out where we are, where we want to be and how we are going to get there,” Ritter said.
Last year the committee examined where the district is now and where it wanted to go, Ritter said.
“We ended last year with a pretty solid vision of where we wanted to be, and our work this year is the big push of designing an action plan for how we are going to get there,” he said.
He said currently with outdated curriculum, teachers are putting together materials themselves, which creates issues of consistency in what is being taught. It also takes time away from teachers getting to know their students and focus on improving as instructors.
“I think the biggest problem that has surfaced is the lack of alignment between our classrooms, between our teachers, between our buildings,” Ritter said. “We need to all get on the same page.”
Board member Jon Woods asked if teachers liked to create their own lesson plans, and would resist adopting curriculum.
“They have to do so much work I would just speculate that they probably don’t want to let go of it because they are so invested in what they’ve done,” Wood said.
Ritter said that may be an issue, but not a significant one.
“I have a feeling that if teachers didn’t have to create their own curriculum, they would be OK with that. It sounds like a joke, but seriously, teaching is a bigger job than any one person can do,” Ritter said. “Even if you have all the materials, there’s always something that you can do better. So, the more that you can take off a teacher’s plate, the more that they have the mental, emotional and cognitive energy to spend on improving their craft in other ways.”
He said the key to having teachers feel comfortable with a curriculum decision is to ask for their feedback, and listen to it.
“You can’t just mandate a curriculum and have everybody teach it because every single teacher is different,” Ritter said. “At the same time, you can’t have people going all willy-nilly and doing whatever they want because then we have no alignment and no cohesion to our student experience.”
Board member Dave Hunt said that he’s talked to students who have said that math classes at Dallas High School didn’t prepare them for college. He ask how the district can plan to avoid that in the future.
“It’s funny you mention math because that is the biggest problem area when it comes to alignment between the high school curriculum and the university curriculum,” he said.
Ritter said high schools may be teaching too much.
“What we are not focusing on is making sure that kids fully grasp the lower level content,” Ritter said. “If we can get them to really understand algebra I and geometry, and be able to get those higher level thinking skills within that, then when they get to college, they can learn algebra II, and calculus and all that. That is what college is for.”
Board member Matt Posey asked if the committee has established what needs to be purchased and how often.
Ritter said he didn’t have a good answer for that because it would depend on a continuous review process. Material on some subjects, social media for example, will become obsolete sooner than others.
“It depends on how easily it’s updated by the publisher or by the creator,” Ritter said.
Andy Bellando, Dallas’ interim superintendent, said Dallas, like other districts, put curriculum purchases on the backburner because more critical needs demanded resources. However, he said making the correct investments will benefit students.
“Your graduation rates go up, your skills development of kids goes up when those basic elements are in place,” he said.