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The Era of the Textbook Is Over

This week, our guest blogger is Dr. Bill Hughes, the Chief Academic Officer for Seton Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. Bill has been engaged in K-12 education policy and leadership for over thirty years and is the former superintendent of Greendale School District in the Milwaukee suburbs.

Smartboards, iPads, and Chromebooks are common in American classrooms today. This age of technology we live in has changed the approach to learning and the need for new and improved instructional resources in schools.

Seton Catholic Schools, our growing network of K-8 Catholic parish schools in Milwaukee, implemented a new ELA curriculum that has had noteworthy results. Louisiana Believes was developed by teachers and educators. Each text collection has a shared idea, such as the American Revolution, and contains authentic texts and novels commonly celebrated by teachers and students. Students engage with the texts and ideas repeatedly throughout a unit to build knowledge and tackle big ideas, resulting in faster growth in reading and language arts. More importantly, this ELA curriculum allows teachers to work in small and whole groups with students to increase understanding, thereby increasing reading growth rates.

Formative and summative assessments are aligned and we measure growth and find bright spots across the network, given schools are using a common resource for the first time. Early results are promising, and more classrooms are showing greater than one years' growth academically. Teachers are collaborating across the network of schools during professional development to learn more about this innovative curriculum.

Below is an update on our no-more-textbooks approach to instruction. It was written by Leni Dietrich, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Seton Catholic Schools:

A little over one thousand miles separates students in Milwaukee from students in New Orleans, but they have a lot in common when it comes to learning.

Our growing network of urban Catholic schools has put a stake in the ground: We are no longer purchasing textbooks for math, English, science, or social studies. Instead, we are turning to high-quality, open-source curricula, including Louisiana Believes.

By not taking part in the $4 billion textbook industry, we are able to reallocate funds historically spent on inflexible learning materials to resources that accelerate student learning, and to support teachers to effectively implement them.

After an infusion of support from the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top Fund, the State of Louisiana developed new K-12 curricula and resources, including guidebooks and lesson plans aligned to college-and-career-readiness standards, and incentivized their use in local schools. Race to the Top also required that these materials were shared online with educators everywhere.

At Seton, we are working closely with all teachers to shift instructional practice—student engagement is key to raising student achievement. And we realize that we can best support teachers, and their students, when we put high-quality resources in their hands and then let them do what they do best: teach.

Research continues to demonstrate that curricular choices matter. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins' David Steiner, not only is curriculum a critical factor in student academic success, but "the cumulative impact of high-quality curriculum can be significant." And Louisiana Believes is demonstrating early success: Louisiana 4th graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test, and the second-highest in math.

We piloted Louisiana Believes ELA units during the 2016-17 school year, and participating teachers expressed an overwhelming positive impact on their time, instruction, and in turn, student learning. Teachers' focus shifted from searching for resources and planning, to adapting existing resources to meet the needs of their classes and students. Rather than learning from a textbook, students accessed authentic texts, both fiction and non-fiction, in a highly engaging lesson format. This school year we are implementing Louisiana Believes ELA across our entire network. When it comes to math, half of our schools are piloting Zearn, the blended learning program rated as a high-quality resource by the same leaders that brought forth Louisiana Believes.

Hearing the words "no more textbooks" was tough for some educators to hear, but the more we introduce teachers to Louisiana Believes and Zearn, and offer professional development focused on implementation, the more our teachers are voluntarily giving up their textbooks and embracing this new era of teaching and learning.

Dr. Bill Hughes

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