Republicans vote to accept reading instruction curricula despite concerns over materials - TAI News
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Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature voted in March to reject 11 new curricula recommended by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  These curricula would teach students in kindergarten and grades 1 through 3 of the state’s public and private schools to read.

Republicans instead adopted a shorter list of reading curricula, despite the DPI’s concerns that the materials had not been properly reviewed and that the state could potentially face lawsuits over curricula that were not approved.

Last year, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed a Act 20, a bill that made changes to early childhood literacy instruction in Wisconsin. The law  established what its text calls a Council on Early Literacy Curricula within a newly created Office of Literacy in the DPI consisting of nine appointees selected by the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader, and the state superintendent of public instruction.

The curriculum council is tasked with recommending science-based literacy curricula and instructional materials for grades K-3 to the DPI each year; the DPI then recommends its chosen curricula to the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. School districts in Wisconsin are not required to use the approved curricula, but they can receive additional state funding if they do.

The DPI, however, says the curriculum council wasn’t able to complete its job properly.

With Wisconsin’s Assembly and Senate still controlled by Republicans, six of the nine members of the literacy curriculum council are Republican appointees.

In a February letter to the Joint Finance Committee, the DPI explained that in its early meetings, the curriculum council spent significant time discussing general implementation of Act 20 and requesting information on funding for various items in the law. 

“Due to the timing of vendor submissions and the deadline established by the Council, it was not possible for the group to provide its initial list of recommended early literacy curricula to the DPI by the statutory deadline of December 1, 2023, which subsequently meant the DPI was unable to meet the statutory deadline of posting the initial recommended list by January 1, 2024,” the department said in its letter.

When the council finally was able to begin making its recommendations, the DPI said, the council’s rubric for scoring curriculum materials differed from standards set by Act 20.

“After the January 24, 2024, meeting, the DPI determined statements and actions by the council’s selection process had exposed the state of Wisconsin to an unacceptable level of risk that the process and ultimate recommendations could be successfully challenged,” the DPI said in its letter.

The curriculum council ultimately recommended only four options for an early literacy instruction curriculum, after choosing not to review a significant portion of the materials it was supposed to.

The DPI overrode the council’s recommendations and made its own list of 11 recommended curricula. Nevertheless, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee chose to ignore the DPI’s concerns and adopted the council’s recommendations anyway.

“I believe that if we want to see Act 20 succeed we need to embrace quality over quantity,” said Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, adding that the council’s recommendations “represent a quality that we should be proud of.”

“I think that it’s arrogant. I think it is pure foolishness that we are going to go against the better judgment of the Department of Public Instruction,” Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson said, noting that the DPI had warned that choosing a narrow selection of curricula could incur a lawsuit from vendors whose submissions were not selected.

Jill Underly, the state superintendent and head of the DPI, said in a statement that the budget committee’s choice misses the mark.

“Act 20 is about doing what is best for kids through evidence-based teaching and learning, and I stand behind the strong list of high-quality instructional materials the Department of Public Instruction submitted for potential state support,” Underly said. “Today’s action to limit the curricula that will qualify for additional state funding is a missed opportunity, which will unfortunately limit the potential reach and impact of our bipartisan curricular changes for students across Wisconsin.”

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