Outsourcing the core

Philadelphia has outsourced a new standardized high school curriculum to Kaplan K12 Learning Services Group, a division of the test-prep company. All college-prep courses follow the Kaplan K12 curriculum, keeping to the same schedule and measuring progress with frequent diagnostic tests. It seems to be working fairly well in its shakedown year, reports Education Week.

(In 2002), only eight in 10 Philadelphia teenagers attended school on any given day. Just over half of 9th graders were promoted to grade 10, with that proportion dropping to 45 percent in the city’s neighborhood high schools. Only about one-fourth of incoming freshmen made it to graduation and into their first year of college. And just 18 percent of district students scored at the “proficient” level or higher on the state math tests in 2001; only 24 percent did so in English.

Expectations were low. Courses were many, including 25 different versions of ninth grade English. Paul Vallas took over the district and began to standardize the curriculum. He hired Kaplan to write the district’s core courses.

It has produced spiral-bound curriculum resource documents for each course that include a year-at-a-glance overview of how many class periods should be devoted to each topic; a more detailed scope and sequence that details which state and TerraNova standards are addressed by each topic over the course of a day or week; and two-page daily lesson plans that include essential questions, suggested warm-up activities, instructional objectives, ideas about assessment, and homework assignments.

Separate volumes provide standards-aligned resource materials that teachers can often photocopy and use directly, as well as links to other resources. The documents — which eventually will be available online — also include suggestions for multicultural education and ways to differentiate instruction for advanced learners, students learning English, and those with disabilities. For the first time, the school system also purchased textbooks districtwide to accompany the new curriculum.

The pace is fast.

Teachers can no longer linger on content that they’re comfortable with and avoid material they don’t like, Mr. Vallas said. Nor can they design courses that address their own talents and interests rather than the needs of their students.

Of course, teachers also can’t linger to explain material to students who don’t get it the first time. Rather than dumbing down the courses, Philadelphia will increase class time in key subjects for students who need more time.

About Joanne