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Empowerment schools to switch literacy texts

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Six years after standardizing the textbooks and instructional programs for all of its schools, the District is now planning a switch in its literacy texts for grades K-8, but only in its Empowerment Schools – the schools that have repeatedly failed to meet performance targets.

The District’s 2010-11 budget, presented to City Council on Monday, includes a $10 million budget line for new textbooks, and the District plans to purchase the Imagine It! series by SRA for grades K-6 and literacy materials by Glencoe for grades 7-8, according to a District spokesperson

SRA is also the publisher of the Corrective Reading and Corrective Math remedial programs now used in Empowerment Schools. Both Glencoe and SRA are now subsidiaries of textbook giant McGraw-Hill.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that the Empowerment Schools need to make a change and focus more on skill development. "The young people in our Empowerment Schools at every grade level lack strong basic skills. We’ve found that to go to a curriculum that’s much more structured – much more teacher-directed – has been successful."

In speaking to City Council, Ackerman referred to the proposed new curriculum materials by the name "Open Court," which is actually another literacy series produced by SRA. Some describe Imagine It!, released in 2008, as a successor to Open Court.

Since 2004, the District has been using Harcourt Trophies and Holt Elements of Literature as its standard core curriculum literacy texts in grades K-8, and those materials will continue to be used everywhere but the Empowerment Schools. Key components of the District’s core curriculum materials are planning and scheduling timelines for its K-8 teachers, which are built around the Harcourt and Holt materials.

Ackerman said that departing from the use of standardized materials across the District "is not an issue."

"This program is very much in alignment with our state standards," she said.

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