Midpeninsula Post

PAUSD board approves controversial ELA curricula

Palo Alto High School in September 2021. (Emily Yao)

The Palo Alto Unified School District board approved recommended ELA curricula for kindergarten through fifth grade earlier this month, despite controversy. 

Many teachers and students deemed the new “Benchmark Advance/Adelante” curricula subpar and urged the board to reconsider approval, prior to the vote. 

“Students found the program not engaging and disjointed,” said Gabe Galper, Paly student representative at the board meeting. “It is quite clear that rushing this decision will not aid any students and more time is required to find or develop a curriculum.” 

Numerous teachers on the adoption committee said they believed the newly approved one-size-fits-all Benchmark curriculum will hurt target groups — students with dyslexia and students of color— even more, instead of helping them. 

Briones Elementary School teacher Gina DalFuoco said she noticed her students were less engaged while the curriculum was being piloted. 

“The student experience wasn’t great, and [my students] were definitely happy when I said, ‘This is the last one. Today’s our last day — we’re going to pack this up,’” DalFuoco said. “There were audible cheers from six and seven-year-olds.” 

However, board members held their support for the curricula adoption and stated that it was their role to ensure curricula alignment with board policy, which the “Teachers College” curriculum currently in use does not meet. 

“Districts have to adopt a curriculum — meaning it goes through some kind of review process where teachers, administration and some parents are on a committee. They look at different curricula, they try it out in their classroom,” DalFuoco said. “‘Teachers College’ grew a little bit more organically in Palo Alto, and it just didn’t go through that process.”

Several members reemphasized that the adoption was also initiated in part to address systemic equity issues in elementary ELA education. Only board member Jennifer DiBrienza voted against curricula adoption. 

“I do not believe a new reading curriculum alone is going to solve our deep and systemic inequities,” board member Jesse Ladomirak said at the meeting. “But I still have concluded that even with a ranking of only three out of five, the benefits of getting a standards-aligned curriculum in place, in every classroom, for every student at the beginning of next academic year outweigh the benefits of delaying.” 

The education services department is set to provide extensive teacher development and curricula training over the summer. The professional learning plan consists of three main components: an asynchronous unpacking module provided by Benchmark, two-day in-person training and an administrator session to prepare for implementation, according to Kelly Bikle, professional learning director. 

Teachers will have the opportunity to reselect curricula during the next adoption cycle in 2027. Until then, to best support student learning, the district will provide additional support and supplemental learning materials to teachers based on teacher feedback. 

“I am fully committed to working together and supporting teachers through this adoption in every possible way,” Ladomirak said at the board meeting. “Our students deserve no less from all of us.” 

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