Top-down, scripted curriculum mandates are a disaster for our schools

This is the first of a multi-part series of articles focusing on corporate canned curriculum mandates from NYCDOE leadership. 

Mayor Adams’ and Chancellor Banks’ effort to overhaul the NYC curriculum in reading, math, and early childhood education is being rolled out in an aggressive, top-down manner. The current NYCDOE leadership has pushed prepackaged, scripted curricula across all grades and is rolling this effort out in phases across multiple districts each year. In this series, we share concerns about the lack of cultural responsiveness (also highlighted in a recent report from NYU) in these curricula, the lack of credible research to support their effectiveness, and the ways we can organize and push back on these top-down mandates.

Concerns from rank and file members about PreK-12 curricular overhaul:

Overall, MORE members are concerned about the lack of teacher autonomy, the amount of money going to corporations and venture capitalists, the one-size-fits all approach to our diverse students, the culture of compliance and “fidelity” rather than critical consciousness and culturally responsive pedagogy. We reject the corporate takeover of our school curriculum, and we demand the protection of our students’ data. We demand autonomy about how and what our students learn. Teachers are being asked to implement curriculum which is not aligned to NY State standards or the NYS framework for Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education

A scripted curriculum, and the rigid adherence to it, is not responsive to our students and their context. The corporations that write and produce these curricula are beholden to their shareholders and are motivated by profit margins. They are not motivated by ensuring that all students have what they need to succeed academically, or by a desire for all children to read. 

If Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks were serious about addressing dyslexia in NYC schools, they would not be advocating a one-size-fits all basal reading program. They would not be removing literacy coaches in the middle of a curriculum overhaul. 

Response from the UFT has ranged from some District Reps completely denying that there is a curricular mandate in place to other District Reps acknowledging the mandate and insisting that any vagueness in our contract result in management (the district, superintendent, and principal) making the final decisions about how curriculum is implemented. We reject this capitulation to the demands and whims of management. 

UFT was granted a $7M, 2-year contract to help implement these curricula at the March 20, 2024 PEP (Panel for Education Policy) meeting. Rather than resisting this far-reaching curriculum mandate, UFT is rolling out the red carpet for and profiting from the implementation of these scripted corporate curricula. 

MORE sees this curricular overhaul as a haphazard attempt to slap together a response to the impacts of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. The reality is that there is no curriculum that will work for everyone, and our students deserve a variety of resources and the support required to meet their diverse needs. The best practice in education continues to be a culturally, academically responsive and sustaining approach. We need to move students towards grade level materials and skills while differentiating. A one-size-fits-all scripted curriculum does not support differentiation, meet the needs of students, or capture their interest and motivation.

Teachers and other school staff know how to support our students’ learning. We have fought for a contract that protects our right to teach our students using our professional expertise. We will not let the school bureaucracy eliminate our autonomy at work and deprive our students of a quality education.

HMH Into Reading 

Phase 1: Districts 5, 11, 12. 14. 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 29, 30, 32

Phase 2: Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 17, 18, 24, 27, 28, 31, 75, 79

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, owned by Veritas Capital

Veritas Capital is the venture capitalist firm that owns HMH and is profiting off of the Into Reading roll out.  Despite having spent so much money and time on developing full classroom libraries over the past few decades, schools now have to purchase new consumables (the MyBook readers) each year, while classroom libraries sit and gather dust. Students no longer read books; they read articles, short texts, and short plays from their hefty MyBook. Schools have already invested so much money in buying and warehousing materials for HMH that even if data shows it is not effective, districts and schools will be reluctant to turn the ship around (despite Adams’ and Banks’ apparent willingness for the DOE to scrap the Mosaic curriculum after $200M and years of investment). 

The amount of money that has been spent on this transition to HMH Into Reading has been in the tens of millions, although transparency in the actual cost is completely lacking (despite multiple requests to the PEP for this information). The NYC Mayoral Control hearings were dominated by educators and families lamenting this new reading curriculum that does not involve reading books. 

Mayor Eric Adams has shared his struggle in learning to read as a child suffering from dyslexia. He decried the one-size-fits-all reading curriculum that he was subjected to, which failed to address his needs. His current curriculum overhaul gives districts a choice of 3 reading programs, each of which is... *checks notes* one-size-fits-all and fails to meet our students’ needs. Ironically enough, the most popular curriculum of the 3, and the one that most superintendents have chosen for their districts, HMH, remains completely centered around Fountas and Pinnell (F&P) reading evaluations. We are replacing one F&P program with another, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, while supposedly denouncing F&P as ineffective

Students are not being taught to write the essays that they are expected to generate every 3 weeks during the module assessments. Untenured teachers will be reluctant to assert their rights under article 24 without a unified assertion of teacher autonomy across chapters, schools, and districts. When the results of assessments are low, administrators blame teachers while in the same breath denying them any opportunity to scaffold and address gaps that have widened over the course of years in an education and economic system wrought with inequity. This includes the oversight that all students are required to type essays, but no students have received computer literacy classes or typing classes. This work falls into the shoulders of classroom teachers who are already being reprimanded for not adhering to unrealistic pacing guides.

In a blow to principal and teacher autonomy, schools are being dictated a pacing calendar by their district. This pacing calendar does not take into account the ridiculously long (16-page) end-of-module assessments that all students in grades K-5 take once every 3 weeks. It takes students about a week’s worth of reading lessons to complete them (25% of our reading instructional time is going towards these computerized assessments!). These assessments are not editable by teachers, and they are assessing the entirety of the module (based on 90 minute reading blocks), while schools are only able to fit 50 minutes of reading a day. Teachers are required to use large amounts of class time to assess students on material that has not been taught to them. 

The DOE continues to unfairly penalize the children who remain on the wrong side of a digital divide that has persisted for decades despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that the PEP has thrown at tech for schools. Without a comprehensive plan and curriculum, there is no guarantee that every child will learn how to use the very tools they are being held responsible for demonstrating mastery of from such a young and inappropriate age. We will continue to reward the children whose families already have money and internet access and computers at home and who have time and energy to show their children how to express their ideas through typing. 

Some of the components of the HMH curriculum include AI. Students’ voices and responses are recorded and cannot be removed after the fact. There is a huge privacy violation inherent in voice collection especially as DOE does not list this app nor post the privacy protections. Have parents given permission for their children to be recorded in this way? And how will this data be protected? 

We are greatly concerned about our students never reading entire books of their own choosing. If HMH is adopted across K-12 in some districts, it will mean students will not have independently read a single book in its entirety for their entire education in the NYCDOE. Is this the quality of reading instruction that independent schools provide to their students? Would Chancellor Banks or Mayor Adams be satisfied with a school system that never asked their children to read a single entire book?

The texts and excerpts that students are reading are not culturally responsive. As shown in the recent NYU report, this curriculum is actually culturally destructive. A text in third grade presents a violation of bodily autonomy and consent as a form of celebration. In the questions in the teachers’ guides, there is no criticality or examination of the deficit mindset or stereotypes that some of these texts reinforce. As the report states, we see patterns of superficial diversity and representation, along with demeaning language. The module themes direct the lens of the conversation– how can the “Heroic Feats” module’s text on St. Augustine fairly and accurately present the perspective of the colonized Seminole and Timucua population? Presenting settler colonialism as a heroic feat is a regression in our work with students. They deserve better, especially in 2024. 

caption #1

Glossing over the impact of settler colonialism and genocide in a nonfiction text in HMH Into Reading, grade 4

caption 2

Eliminating any pretense of consent, from HMH Into Reading, grade 3

Rolling these changes out in phases should allow for evaluation, feedback from educators, and cost-benefit analysis. No data is being collected from classrooms, despite claims to the contrary by NYCDOE. This data should inform the next steps in curriculum rollout, but we see no desire in the NYCDOE for information to flow in any direction besides top-down. 

In Spring 2023, the UFT assured teachers at a delegate assembly (DA) that the DOE would not be able to rush the new curriculum by Fall 2023, that there wasn’t enough time to train all of the teachers, and that a new time frame would be rolled out. By the following DA, the UFT had capitulated and gave the DOE the green light to rush through the new curriculum in the fall. Because of the rush, most teachers did not have all of the materials or training they needed for HMH. There has been intense pressure all year from the chancellor to superintendents, from superintendents to principals, and from principals to teachers to “implement the new curriculum with fidelity,” despite the reality that teachers had not been given adequate training on how to do that while meeting the needs of their students. 

Connection to Mayoral Control of Schools

The top-down implementation of the corporate curriculum project termed NYC Reads is only made possible by the monopoly of control that the NYC mayor has over schools. 

NYCDOE’s Mayoral Control system has been in effect since 2002. For those unfamiliar, here is the Democracy in NYC Schools website, and here are session 1 and session 3 of the ECC series on mayoral control of schools, as well as a panel discussion on Mayoral Control. IntegrateNYC  (power to the youth!) has launched Schools By Us For Us, critiquing mayoral control of schools as well.

The legacy of Mayoral Control speaks for itself– under two decades of mayoral control, schools have become ever more racially and economically segregated, and conditions are getting worse. One-size fits all corporate scripted curriculum means less differentiation and less responsiveness to our students and their cultures. Violence against parent leaders and educators are increasing, with many of the perpetrators closely connected to and advising current NYCDOE leadership. 

Mayoral Control is being referred to by Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks as “Mayoral Accountability.” There is absolutely no accountability for the mayor or his appointees under Mayoral Control. The mayor’s record low approval ratings don’t seem to be any form of accountability. Parents, educators, and students line up to speak month after month at the PEP, and mayoral appointees (the majority of voting PEP members) do not show any accountability to their concerns and do not address or explain their extremely unpopular decisions that fly in the face of the testimony being given to them. 

The players involved in the NYCDOE continue a legacy of privatization initiated under Mayor Bloomberg at the start of Mayoral Control. We are seeing a lot of self-dealing and a lack of accountability as deputy chancellor positions are created from thin air for corrupt employees, while the entire Department of Teaching and Learning is dismantled and their work privatized through lucrative third party contracts. Dan Weisberg is the CEO of The New Teacher Project, and the former right-hand-man to Michelle Rhee, corporate ed reformer in DC schools and notorious privatizer. Weisberg’s TNTP held large contracts with NYC Teaching Fellows until 2017. Weisberg continues to push back on the 2022 class size law (that is ALREADY the law!). 

What Does the UFT Contract Say?

Our UFT contract includes Article 24,which directly addresses mandated curriculum: 

Where differences related to school-based decisions in one of the following areas cannot be resolved, a conciliation process will be available to facilitate the resolution of these differences:


  • Curriculum mandates
  • Textbook selection
  • Program offerings and scheduling
  • Student testing procedures and appraisal methodology
  • Pedagogical and instructional strategy, technique and methodology.


While the red carpet is being rolled out by UFT officers, and UFT teacher coaches have been brought in to facilitate the implementation of HS canned curricula (and the UFT teacher center is profiting from the , we are seeing individual schools and communities stepping up and pushing back. Petitions are being circulated at chapter meetings, addressed to the chancellor and to UFT officers. Educators must stand together with parents and students to demand better for our students! 

Ways to Engage/ Take Action

Educators at schools in Districts 20, 22 and 15 (and across the city) are already organizing against these curricular mandates. We are calling on UFT to stand up for teacher autonomy instead of profiting from and supporting the DOE in implementing this disaster.

We are collecting data on this form about educators’ experiences with corporate curriculum. Please share your thoughts! 

Talk about your concerns about corporate canned curriculum at your chapter meetings. Share information with your colleagues about Article 24 of our contract. 

Reach out to [email protected] to find out about joining our Curriculum Autonomy working group.

We will be participating in a study group to read NYC Public Schools from Brownsville to Bloomberg: Community Control of Schools and its Legacy and we invite other folks to read along and dispel the myths that have been spread by Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks about what they term “Mayoral Accountability” but is actually an undemocratic, accountability-free stranglehold on school policy, enabling corruption and privatization for the largest and most segregated school system in the country.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.