New York State School Boards Association

SED navigates new role in curriculum

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • April 28, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The state’s role in curriculum development is expanding.

Traditionally, New York has limited its involvement to establishing learning standards and producing “guides” and “frameworks” to assist with the local development of curriculum, noted Ken Wagner, deputy commissioner for curriculum, assessment and education technology at the State Education Department.

That began to change when New York adopted Common Core State Standards in 2010 and received a $700 million federal Race to the Top grant in 2011. The state used part of the federal grant to hire contractors that produced new Common Core-aligned curricular modules for math and English Language Arts. The modules were posted on and have been downloaded some 6.2 million times, according to Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

“Prior to Race to the Top, there was no state-supported curriculum development in New York,” Wagner said. “That never existed in the history of this state.”

With the announcement of a new initiative to create Common Core Institute Fellows (see SED to create Common Core Fellows program), the involvement of teachers in development of curricular materials also is expanding – at least for now.

While New York teachers reviewed the current Common Core-aligned curriculum modules before they were posted online, the educators who wrote the curricular modules on were employed by the vendors, Wagner said.

“We’re looking to find out if there’s a model where we can bring New York teachers in to serve as writers, not just as reviewers,” Wagner said. “You can’t write these modules in the evenings and Saturday mornings. It’s a very large undertaking.”

At the same time, the state needs a way to disseminate effective teaching methods used by individual teachers, said Kate Gerson, a former teacher and principal now employed by the Regents Research Fund as a senior fellow.

“There are places, as this plays out in real life, where teachers are getting smarter about this and we want to benefit from that,” Gerson said. 

As teachers try the curriculum modules in their own classrooms, Gerson said, it’s likely that they are finding places where they need to modify the pace of introducing new ideas, lengthen or shorten the time spent on particular concepts, change the order in which chapters are taught, substitute alternate reading materials or alter their approach to a topic in some other way.

Some teachers may be discovering adjustments that are helpful for reaching students with disabilities or English Language Learners, two specific areas in which curriculum enhancement is needed, she said. As Common Core Institute Fellows, teachers could share their discoveries by crafting new instructional notes alerting other teachers to expanded possibilities or techniques for teaching specific lessons.

SED is describing this project as an effort to “enhance” the existing curriculum modules, and the English Language Arts modules for grades K-8 are not included at this point. Wagner said it’s possible, however, that K-8 ELA curriculum work could be added – and perhaps even coordinated with ongoing work in other subject areas.

Because the State Education Department expects to move forward with Race to the Top-funded initiatives to develop a new framework for social studies instruction and Next Generation Science Standards, it could make sense to integrate work in those disciplines with the K-8 ELA curriculum and materials, he added.  

It’s unclear whether the state’s expanded involvement in curricular development will be a temporary or sustained role.

“The state education agency is not traditionally a publishing house, and if you think about it, that’s what we have been doing for the past two or three years,” Wagner said.

“We’re trying to figure out – does this model work … or does the state just hang up its curriculum spurs?”

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