Yes, You Can Give Teachers Challenging and Culturally Relevant Materials. Just Look at Chicago.

Oct 2, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Two-thirds of Chicago’s teachers spend hours on the weekend scouring websites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers because they say they don’t have up-to-date, culturally relevant curricula—and at times must even create lessons from scratch. That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Teachers in Chicago are not alone. This is an issue in many school systems across the country, but CPS is taking steps to address the problem. 

Under the leadership of CEO Janice Jackson, a member of Chiefs for Change, CPS launched a new curriculum equity initiative that will create a library of high-quality, culturally relevant resources that teachers across all grade levels and subjects can use to supplement their instruction. [pullquote]The goal is to ensure that all of Chicago’s children learn from rigorous instructional materials closely tied to high standards.[/pullquote]

Dr. Jackson recently spoke to the City Club of Chicago about the teacher survey and the curriculum initiative. Here is a lightly edited transcript of her remarks. 

Two-thirds of the teachers surveyed said that they spend at least two hours, mostly on the weekends, searching the internet looking for instructional materials for their students. Some of our teachers, especially our newer teachers working in some of our toughest schools, report they spend six to seven hours working so that they can differentiate lessons for kids. The average teacher spends more than $250 of their own money to support children in the classroom. I understand this. It isn’t a surprise to me as a former teacher. 

I know that one of the ways that we can help reduce this frustration is by leveling the playing field and making sure that every single teacher doesn’t have to guess about what is grade-level material. [pullquote position="right"]Curriculum design is not the teacher’s job; it is not in their job description.[/pullquote] Their job is to teach the curriculum, not write it. So, we have to do something different. 

In the next three years, CPS will make a significant investment to create a library of resources online for teachers to use across the city. It will have several goals: 

  1. The curriculum will be culturally responsive. Research is clear that when students see themselves in the curriculum, they’re much more connected to what is being presented to them. 
  2. It will support our diverse learners, both our students with special needs and our gifted and accelerated students who are ready to go to the next level, and sometimes the teachers don’t have the time to move them along because of the differentiation in the classroom. 
  3. Built into this system, we will identify students who need additional support—again, taking away the uncertainty or the guesswork for teachers to figure out who needs more support and who doesn’t. 
  4. We will make sure that social-emotional learning is embedded. One of the tenets of our vision is to educate the whole child. While we talk a lot about our gains in reading and math, we know in order for our students to have a world-class education, they must have access to a comprehensive curriculum.
  5. We want to make sure that our curriculum is translated into Spanish for our English learners, because the materials must be accessible to them. 

Our curricular equity initiative will go a long way toward improving the work-life balance for our teachers. What this also means is that algebra in Lake View will look like algebra in Little Village. It means that teachers can concentrate on doing their job, which is to engage our children and help them learn. 

Leila Walsh

Leila Walsh is the chief external affairs officer for Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of some of the nation’s boldest, most innovative state and district education Chiefs.

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