Baltimore County approves elementary textbooks

Despite opposition from one of its board members, the Baltimore County school board approved a 10-year, $15.7 million contract Tuesday night for language arts textbooks.

The new textbook series published by McGraw-Hill Education is for grades one through five, and will cost $4.7 million this year. In addition, the board gave its approval for additional expenditures to buy more of the digital and printed materials over the next decade.

School board member Michael Collins was the lone dissenter, saying he believed the purchase was premature because the school system has not yet completed writing the curriculum. School system administrators said they have written only two of the six units of the curriculum for elementary language arts.

The school system has acknowledged serious problems with the implementation of a new language arts curriculum in grades kindergarten through five this fall. The new curriculum, which is being written just ahead of its use in the classroom this year, was put on a digital platform, but was not not easily accessible to teachers until the last week. 

The head of the teachers union, Abby Beytin, said at the meeting Tuesday night that teachers at some schools are still struggling to create lessons with the new curriculum. They have had difficulty accessing the curriculum, which was put in an online publishing system.  

 In addition, teachers have said they didn't have enough books to go with the lesson plans. A 12-year-old language arts textbook that had been used widely in schools until  the end of the last school year was put in storage and then returned to schools this month.

The new textbooks will be in schools in November.

While Collins said he liked the textbooks, he believed the school system was making changes too quickly. "I think we need to pause here," he said. He noted that the school system had paid $10 million last school year for a "phonics program that is receiving mixed to terrible reviews out in the field."

A number of the administrators who were in charge  of the new language arts curriculum last school year have since left and new officers have been hired. Given the turnover and the way the system has rushed the writing, he said, he believed the textbooks should be purchased later.

While board members voted to go ahead with the purchase, they also amended the approval to say that Superintendent Dallas Dance must report twice a year on the implementation of the new textbook series.

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