Milwaukee Public Schools has more than 77,000 students, representing a very diverse set of demographics. Our student body, which represents many different cultures, deserves materials that reflect these differences. In addition, we must pay special attention to the needs of our English Language Learners (ELLs) (9.2%), Special Education students (19.9%), and low-income students (82.4%). We need materials to support our Spanish speakers in accessing our curriculum, but also need visuals and graphics for our ELLs that speak other languages. Our instructional materials need to include the rigor of the grade level standards along with strategies for providing accommodations and allowing for the modifications our Special Education students require.
When we joined the Instructional Materials Taskforce (IMT), we wanted to build our team to not only understand Common Core-alignment, but also to reflect our students’ needs. One of our goals was to increase the knowledge of our central office staff – and we selected our IMT team members with this in mind – but we also selected teacher leaders that represented the varying needs of our students to join each of the teams. Our teams included Bilingual (also looking through the lens of ELL), Special Education, and literacy and math teachers with early childhood, elementary, and secondary backgrounds. The team members for both literacy and math supported schools throughout the district so the teachers knew, first-hand, the needs of students. While each team member approached the conversation with different expertise, the belief that all students can learn at high levels helped solidify the interconnectedness of the team.
The literacy and math teams, each composed of the variety of specialists listed above, felt confident that they had the representative voices they required to serve the needs of all of our students and so were able to create review processes that worked best for them. The math team went over the materials together first, then individually scored the materials using the rubric. They then came back together and engaged in a debate using evidence to support their findings and eventually agreed on one score. The literacy team worked through each section together, debating and using evidence to support their claims, until they reached a collective score they all agreed upon. While the processes were different, both teams gained a deeper knowledge of the Common Core and a new appreciation for how critical the process of materials selection is in ensuring our students have the tools they need to meet the new Standards.