Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vitti Touts New Lessons for Middle Schoolers; Board Members Wary after Complaints over Elementary Curricula

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vitti Touts New Lessons for Middle Schoolers; Board Members Wary after Complaints over Elementary Curricula

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

When Duval schools ditched elementary school textbooks in favor of a new, mostly online curriculum for math and English language arts this school year, parent and teacher complaints piled up. Even some School Board members questioned the decision.

Tuesday, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tried convincing skeptical board members to buy another set of learning materials - this time for middle school students - with links to the same New York company that helped make its controversial elementary math and reading materials.

Several board members questioned his recommendation, some saying they are less inclined to trust the district's process for selecting instructional materials after their experience with the elementary materials from EngageNY.

EngageNY's curriculum has been controversial from the start.

It is largely based on free, online lessons and texts, rather than textbooks and workbooks. Duval adjusted the curricula for local needs, but its students now use paper printouts in binders, rather than books.

Some parents and teachers said youngsters need books, which they can hold, to be engaged more in reading. Board member Becki Couch said she is unhappy that there are no color pictures or workbooks for youngsters; instead, they use black and white sheets of paper.

Earlier this year, some parents also complained that they can't help their children with math homework, because the new curricula calls for students to learn a variety of ways to approach and solve math problems rather than use the straightforward formulas their parents had learned. Other parents questioned how age-appropriate some of the first-grade and second-grade reading lessons were because they delve into world religions.

"I'm not supportive of it, but it's the curriculum we have," said Jason Fischer, a board member. "Is there a plan to make any changes? I think this is something we should discuss."

Fischer said he knows of several parents who left district schools over curriculum issues.

Vitti said that although there will be some adjustments, including adding grade-level readers and some books to supplement the first- and second-grade materials, the curriculum overall has been successful. …

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