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The Alabama Board of Education on Thursday split a vote to adopt new English textbooks, approving materials for grades 4-12, but taking no action on books for kindergarten to third grade.
The decision leaves K-3 students without state-approved English textbooks for the start of the 2022-23 academic year. Schools have options, only those that have been updated and reviewed by state literacy experts, as required by the Alabama Literacy Act, an unusual change of authority over teaching materials.
The official reason that the council is not taking any action on the books required because the state has recently adopted new English language standards is that only one provider, Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts, has made cuts. But concerns about Amplify’s materials were also one of the reasons, according to board members – although officials declined to say what they were uncomfortable with or what prospective suppliers could do to resolve the issue and still meet state standards.
Board member Tracy West, who represents much of eastern and southeastern Alabama, said she and other board members heard from educators that one of the two major comprehensive reading programs approved by the Ad Hoc Group on Literacy contained excerpts on “controversial issues. ”And that she believed that districts should be able to choose from more than one approved textbook.
“I had to have our school districts turn around and say,‘ We’re looking at different things, and we have a problem with that. We can’t take advantage of that. We will not be able to take advantage of this. It will not work with our families. ”
“And it wasn’t one specific lesson or notebook,” West added. “It was a few. And it was definitely around controversial issues. ”
Amplify is the only core reading program recommended by the Literacy Task Force, of the two selected that EdReports.org, which reviews the quality of educational materials, lived up to all expectations regarding the inclusion of reading science components for kindergarten in second grade.
The materials used in the classrooms are of great value, said Courtney Allison of EdReports, who praises Amplify for using evidence-based reading techniques. Local schools often customize materials, and individual teachers supplement textbooks, but Allison said a state-approved, expert-tested textbook helps all students learn to read.
“The consequences of not getting strong reading instructions are huge,” she said. “If students do not acquire basic literacy skills in K-5 classes, it will have dramatic effects in several subjects.”
West said board members should be careful with materials that young children use in school.
“Parents do not need, when the reader comes home, to find out that in the reading room in the second grade was discussing some social topic.”
Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackie said he was asked questions in July – after two of the task force’s recommendations were published – about some of the stories in one of the two programs approved by the task force, but he could not share specifics.
“We have received complaints from curriculum leaders and directors about the content of the lessons,” Makei said.
Alabama School Executive Director Ryan Hollingsworth said he could not remember the board leaving several classes without a textbook recommended by the state, but he also heard concerns from educators.
“Perhaps the biggest problem I’ve heard [the topic] a level or two later, all right, “Hollingsworth said,” but whatever the level of the class, some people think, it’s a little earlier than what you enjoy. “
For their part, Amplify officials said they look forward to sharing their materials with local school districts, which can purchase the materials themselves, but declined to comment further.
Why did this happen?
The part of the state textbook law governing the actual adoption process was last updated in 1998 and requires consideration of adoption materials that are no more than three years old.
The Alabama Literacy Act, passed in 2019, requires schools to adopt a core comprehensive reading program from kindergarten to third grade that fully includes the science of reading and has been approved by a separate literacy task force of 13 people.
The task force received a dozen applications for core reading programs and made recommendations for two comprehensive core reading programs in July.
The textbook committee, appointed in August, began its work in September, and so far one of the two recommended major reading programs, Open Court Reading McGraw Hill’s Open Court Reading, for which copyright date 2016 has been removed, has been lifted, leaving only one – Amplify CKLA – qualified for review.
At the council’s December working session, Mackay said school districts found that only one of the two programs – Amplify CKLA – could be on the list recommended by the State Textbook Committee. And they didn’t want to use it.
“They see this train on the way,” Makei said. “They want different stuff.”
Schools can use federal or local money to purchase one of the two recommended programs. If they want to use the money for government textbooks to purchase one of the two programs, they must convene a local textbook committee to make a choice and report to the state education department that they have chosen.
The bill on the textbook and the Literacy Act is being pushed through the legislature. West said it expects conflicts between the two laws to be resolved and that this should not happen in the future.
Updated at 10:30 a.m. to explain school district choices for the acquisition of the core reading program.