Lack of Textbooks Matters, Teachers Refute Education Chancellor

November 26, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—While many schools have been improvising using photocopied books as textbook substitutes, according to the city’s Department of Education chancellor, Dennis Walcott, the lack of basic learning materials shouldn’t be a problem. 

Walcott testified before the City Council Committee on Education on Nov. 25. When asked about schools, that didn’t receive complete materials on the new Common Core curriculum, he acknowledged it was an issue, but said it will “not at all” affect the schools, since all the materials are online.

Miriam Aristy-Farer, interim president of Community Education Council District 6, doesn’t agree. “It’s not true,” she said. “To say they’re online … then why are teachers making photocopies of them?”

This is the first school year for New York state when all students in grades 3–12 will go through English and math tests based on the Common Core standards, which should ensure college readiness. Schools, therefore, had to change their curricula to be Common Core aligned.

But parents, teachers, and unions complained about the roll out of the new standards, particularly delayed delivery of textbooks and teacher materials. 

In the second week of September, more than half of the schools missed necessary texts for math and almost 80 percent didn’t have complete English materials, according to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the leading teachers’ union in the city.

“For teachers to be as effective as possible, they need time to learn the new standards and prepare lessons aligned to them,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, outlining consequences of the delays at state Senate hearing on Oct. 29.

“Suppose a fifth-grade teacher has an incoming class that reads at the second- or third-grade level,” Mulgrew said. “How could the teacher adapt the curriculum to compensate, or what other materials could the teacher use?”

He said schools were still contacting the UFT at the end of October complaining about missing materials or receiving wrong materials. That cuts the preparation time for students by about 25 percent, since the tests are administered in April and May.

Aristy-Farer agrees, “To not have teaching guides, teaching materials, textbooks in October is unacceptable.”

In her district of northern Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood, six schools were still waiting for complete materials on Oct. 10, she said.

Aristy-Farer, having two children in the public system herself, was especially disgruntled about the number of important decisions the administration tied to the tests, like teachers and school evaluations. “They didn’t prepare the students, they didn’t prepare the teachers, so it’s completely unfair,” she said.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab