In February 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a measure into law requiring the state’s board of education to implement instruction that recognizes the “political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people” starting in the 2020 school year. The mandate made New Jersey second in the nation to implement such a measure; California’s so-called FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48) was passed in 2011.
We’re focusing on collaboration, communication and resilience, specifically.
EdSurge talked with with Kimberly Tew, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Robbinsville, New Jersey, to get a better understanding of how districts are preparing for the mandate. We also learned where the new curriculum requirements will complement current efforts and where they’ll require more focused attention on the part of district administrators.
EdSurge: Was your district implementing any measures before the legislation passed that would ease its adoption?
Kimberly Tew: As a district, we have already been working very closely with other county schools on issues of equity. So, I think the state mandate around LGBTQIA and disability resources is really timely, considering the work we’re already doing.
More about supporting LGBTQIA learning
We've been working with a couple of different equity consultants and looking at our achievement data, discipline data, who's participating in our extracurriculars, and looking at our policies to make sure that we're eliminating obstacles to AP classes and access to extracurriculars or anything along those lines.
Then the other big initiative we're focusing on is skill-based work and thinking about how we can use content to get to the skills instead of teaching for content's sake. We’re focusing on collaboration, communication and resilience, specifically. How do we leverage our curriculum, instruction and assessment to get to those skills so that when kids leave us they are successful in whatever lane of life that they're in?
What are you doing to prepare for that mandate now?
The legislation was signed in late winter of this year for implementation in September of 2020, which is nice because it gives us time to calibrate. We’ve been trying to answer these questions: What is not being highlighted in our existing curriculum? How do we find resources? How do we talk with teachers? How do we do PD? And we’re thinking not just LGBTQIA resources but also about people with disabilities in history and their contribution since, in New Jersey, the two were packaged under the same legislation.
We also want to make sure this material is not just available in social studies classes. It's going to be in English, in science, in health class, or wherever it fits into the curriculum. It's important to see the multiple levels of content and curriculum that these topics can hit.
It's going to be in English, in science, in health class, or wherever it fits into the curriculum.
What have been some of the unique challenges of this work for your district?
It's new, so finding cutting-edge resources can be tough. Finding age-appropriate and reading level-appropriate resources can be hard, too. New Jersey's mandate is for secondary, but that doesn't mean we also don't want to start talking about these things in K-5.
When we're talking about identity, gender, sexuality, and biology in sixth grade versus tenth grade, that's a big difference. What terms do you use? How do you teach those terms?
A lot of this might be new for the adults in the room as well. So, resources and training for teachers are also needed. Another challenge, and something that we have to think about as we roll something like this out, is how to allocate money to purchase these resources.
How are you setting up your teachers for success with this implementation?
I don’t want them to think, "Oh, it's one more unit or thing I have to squeeze in." Instead, there are so many things that they could quickly put into a group of articles, a text set, etc., and it's just about illuminating different perspectives.
I think of it as parallel train tracks. The students are all getting to the same destination, but what are all the different stories that we can look at and then add to the conversation?
We’re trying to avoid separate discussions like, "Okay. We're going to do LGBTQIA history now." That doesn’t make sense for anybody. Instead, uncovering these unheard narratives should be happening all along the way. I just think it's so much more powerful that way.
Uncovering these unheard narratives should be happening all along the way.
Do you have any advice for district leaders who are similarly developing curriculum around state mandates?
It's definitely still a work in progress for us, but my advice to other districts would be that there are other people doing this work, so finding common-minded people or common-minded districts and working together is key.
I think sometimes in education we're very siloed. I think what's been really powerful for me is being part of a county equity consortium because now I know other school districts are doing the same thing that I'm doing. Then, I can say, "Oh, let’s go over doing that. How did you do that? This is what we're thinking," and make some of this process collaborative.