Searching for Social Studies: Denver Public Schools
Choosing a social studies curriculum is one of the most important decisions that any school or district can make to improve student outcomes and develop the knowledge and skills students need to be active participants in civic life. This blog post and the associated webinar are sponsored by inquirED and the National Council for the Social Studies.
Research indicates that choosing the right curriculum, specifically one that includes high-quality instructional materials is essential in shifting teacher practice and improving student outcomes.
When an average teacher uses high-quality materials, their practice improves to match that of a highly-skilled teacher.
The impact of an excellent curriculum is more cost-effective than smaller class sizes and has the potential to reduce the achievement gap.
If those statistics aren't proof enough of the importance of choosing the right curriculum, consider another sobering reality: most schools and districts are on a 7-10 year adoption cycle. That means that the choices district leaders make this year will affect a decade's worth of students. In the case of social studies, that's a generation of students whose attitudes toward democracy will be shaped and molded.
To help us understand how to navigate the critical process of curriculum review and adoption, we invited Susan Olezene from Denver Public Schools to join us on our webinar and talk about her district's recent social studies adoption.
Partners, not Vendors
One of the first issues I raised with Susan was the long-term adoption cycle and how that reality changes what districts are looking for in a social studies curriculum. "What's critical," Ms. Olezene shared with us, "is the flexibility and adaptability of the curriculum." As she and her colleagues searched, they were gauging whether the curriculum companies were ready to enter into partnership with her district. "We want them to change when the world changes, update their resources and be willing to take feedback from us."
Begin with the End in Mind
Denver instructional leaders were clear when they started their search that whatever curriculum the district selected needed to meet its goals to provide culturally sustaining instruction and inquiry-based practices. "We needed a curriculum that leveraged the knowledge and experiences of our communities," Olezene stated. They also sought the kind of curriculum that supports teachers in shifting their practice. After all, inquiry-based social studies would be new for most of the elementary teachers in their district. "The curriculum needs to support the shifts called for by C3 Framework, " Olezene shared, "so they need to have professional learning along with the curriculum."
Casting a Broad Net
Denver put out an RFI (Request for Information) before they began a formal curriculum review process. According to Olezene, they "wanted to know what was out there and what had been created to match the C3 Framework." The RFI step can lessen teacher committees' load in the review process. If they can agree on some essential criteria and questions for curriculum providers, an RFI requires those providers to address those specific concerns and send proof of their curriculum's alignment.
After Denver received the RFI proposals, they began to engage other stakeholders in their district to create an RFP (Request for Proposal). For example, they contacted their technology department and other critical stakeholders to collect and organize the requirements for whatever curriculum they would select. Additionally, they used the resources they collected during the RFI and others provided by national organizations to create a detailed rubric for social studies content and instructional requirements. View the resources section below to find a link to their rubric.
It’s important to note that both the RFI and RFP process might not be realistic, based on your district size and timeline. However the takeaways of ensuring you do your research on what’s out there and engaging the appropriate stakeholders during the adoption process can apply regardless of your process. For those wanting to post an RFI or RFP:
Post the RFI or RFP on your school or district site. You might already have a place where bid opportunities are posted. For example, when public schools engage in construction projects, they must first post an open RFP. You can ask your district to post your RFI or RFP in the same way.
After they post your RFI or RFP, companies across the country that monitor district sites for open bids send your document to the appropriate vendors.
You could also look at the state level to see if there is a place where you can post your RFI or RFP.
Building Reviewers' Capacity (And Avoiding Pilots)
While many districts embark upon a pilot, Olezene cautioned that pilots could sometimes yield skewed results if they are set up incorrectly. "What we often see," she said, "is that teachers prefer the resources that they piloted because they've become familiar with it."
Better than a pilot, Olezene remarked, is a focused effort to build your committee’s capacity to identify resources that align to your goals. If you’re looking for inquiry-based, culturally relevant content, make sure you’re building your teachers’ understanding of what that looks like before they begin to review content. Olezene noted, “through the past couple of years… we worked to provide that professional learning so that when they [teachers] were also part of the review community, that’s what they were looking for as well.”
inquirED's Curriculum Review Guide: In consultation with our partner schools and districts, inquirED has created a Curriculum Review Guide to support instructional leaders as they develop and search for social studies curriculum.
Denver's RFP Rubric: When Denver issued its RFP, it included this detailed rubric to evaluate materials
View the recording of the webinar below.
inquirED has moved beyond the textbook, offering a customizable, digital curriculum that supports teachers in shifting to student-centered instruction. inquirED delivers year-long, student-centered curriculum and assessment with engaging content and activities for students and embedded professional learning for teachers. Inquiry Journeys is inquirED’s core elementary social studies curriculum. Inquiry Journeys is a comprehensive inquiry-based curriculum with embedded PD that helps teachers shift their practice to a more inquiry-based approach. Learn More.
About our Panelists and Host
Susan Olezene is currently the director of Science, Social Studies, STEM and Personalized Learning in the department of Culturally Sustaining Curriculum and Instruction for Denver Public Schools (DPS). She has been with Denver Public Schools for 7 years and in education for over 35 years in a variety of roles as teacher, principal, supervisor of principals and various roles in curriculum and instruction. She has supported her teams in the successful adoption of K-12 social studies resources, K-8 science resources, and the development of high school science resources through a Research-Practice Partnership (RPP) with CU Boulder.
Martin has taught for 20 years at the K-12 and college levels. As a Social Studies and Latin teacher in Ohio, he developed narrative-based middle school Latin and high school World History curricula. After earning an MFA in Theatre, Martin co-founded Working Group Theatre, helping to create over 15 original plays to educate children and adults. His work has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Metlife Foundation, and others. Martin joined inquirED in December 2017.