Sunday, March 17, 2024

Talk out of School: concerns with NYC's mandated reading curriculum, plus student comments below

Check out the latest Talk out of School featuring a discussion of NYC's most widely used reading program, HMH Into Reading, with NYU researcher Flor Khan, Brooklyn parent Alina Lewis and teacher Martina Meijer.  Below is a short summary of Alina's concerns, along with some comments from fifth and 6th grade students at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry. Below that are some newsclips related to the reading curriculum as well as other news items mentioned on the show.


In May of 2023 we were informed that our school, the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, would need to replace our existing literacy curriculum with HMH’s Into Reading for grades K-5, and that our middle school would need to adopt HMH’s Into Literature for grades 6-8.

The Brooklyn School of Inquiry is founded upon progressive education principles, and has a long standing tradition of student centered, inquiry driven pedagogy. Our literacy curriculum, honed by teachers over many years, was developed with our specific students in mind and embodied the spirit of inquiry and progressive education embedded in our mission. It is this tradition of inquiry that draws parents from all over Brooklyn to our school, and the curriculum has served our community extremely well.

Students are highly engaged in meaningful learning, well prepared to succeed in rigorous high school classrooms, and 91% of our students are at or above proficient (ELA state test, 2022-2023). We have been forced to abandon our curriculum and adopt HMH, a scripted, test prep style literacy curriculum that does not include real books, only excerpts from passages.

Instead of engaging deeply with the themes embedded in rich literature such as A Raisin in the Sun, our kids now read three and a half page articles about Instagrammers. Instead of reading the Diary of Ann Frank at BSI, our students read bland two page excerpts such as “Challenges for Space Exploration,” from the HMH workbook. There is simply no way that such a curriculum will prepare our students to be the thinkers, change makers, and citizens that we want them to be.

It's unconscionable that HMH is being pushed onto students, teachers and families in the name of “literacy” when it contains no substantive literature. It's unconscionable that HMH is being billed as “research backed” with no extant, rigorous data to support its effectiveness and quality (Wexler, 2024). Below, please see some qualitative data about Into Reading and Into Literature, gleaned from students direct experiences. Please consider if this is the type of literacy education we dream of for our public school kids in New York City.

I have always loved reading. You can ask anyone in my family, and they will tell you that. And I can also tell you that this curriculum has no real reading.

-       Will, 5th grade


Overall, the Into Literature book has you repeat what it just stated, feeding you words to the answers and saps your writing of creativity and self expression. This is why I don’t think I am learning very much.

-       Penelope, 6th grade


In years past, ELA was fun! We would read real books and short stories. Now we read mostly excerpts in our HMH workbooks or online…Next year I will be in 7th grade. I was so excited to hear about Ms. Mia and some of the things that she does in her ELA classes, such as a unit where students put Christopher Columbus on trial. I am a Native American/Puerto Rican girl with Taino ancestry - what a  unique and personal experience this could be! I would be so disappointed to have this learning opportunity with my classmates taken away and replaced with excerpts and assessments from HMH.

-       Kira, 6th grade


In the fifth Harry Potter book, the Ministry of Magic installs a mundane curriculum for the students of Hogwarts in Defense against the Dark Arts. In this curriculum, you study defensive spells, think about defensive spells, and write papers on defensive spells, but you do not actually get to do defensive spells. In my opinion, this curriculum is not unlike the HMH curriculum. We are thinking about books, and we are reading excerpts, but are we are not actually reading books.

-       Isabel Carlos, 5th grade


So, to sum it all up, it's just not challenging, fun or exciting. It feels like I’m getting half of the ELA sixth grade experience. Half of a story, half of a piece of writing, only half of a curriculum. I really hope you will let my school keep teaching me and my classmates in a way that is both educational, exciting and fun.

- Carlo, 6th grade


I miss reading whole novels and discussing them in class like we did in elementary school. Now in middle school we read excerpts from the books and are asked simplistic questions about them…You can't get to the point and the idea of the book through reading just a part of it. You need to read books in their entirety and if you have a teacher to guide you and your friends to discuss the book with, it makes you want to read more.

-       Ethan, 6th grade


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